Twelfth Night @ Upstairs at The Gatehouse

Arrows & Traps’ new repertory season sees the company take on Shakespeare’s Othello and Twelfth Night, where the same cast and crew perform the shows on alternating nights. Directed by Ross McGregor, their Twelfth Night is an entertaining adaption that packs comedy and action into a succinct and digestible performance. Although the traditional Elizabethan costumes feel out of character when compared to the company’s usual contemporary take on Shakespeare’s plays, it doesn’t stop this adaptation from being a successful piece of theatre.

The shipwrecked Viola (Pippa Caddick) finds herself on the shores of Illyria, and without her twin brother by her side, she has no choice but to disguise herself as a young man called Cesario in order to navigate this new place. In Illyria, Duke Orsino (Pearce Sampson) is hopelessly in love with Olivia (Cornelia Baumann), and uses the disguised Viola to help woo the woman he loves. When Olivia begins to fall for the cross-dressed Viola, hilarity ensues, which is made even more complicated by the appearance of a young man who looks exactly like Cesario.

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Photo: The Ocular Creative

As an ensemble the company work well together, steadily keeping the energy of the piece high throughout. Baumann embraces Olivia’s subtle humour with ease, and her performance is refreshing. Portraying the play’s fool is Lloyd Warbery, who hilariously delivers the character’s comedy and responds to the audience’s reactions with confidence. However, this adaptation’s stand out character has to be Malvolio, performed impeccably by Adam Elliott. Although not the most interesting or likeable character in the play, Elliott performs Malvolio with so much brilliance and passion that you can’t help but smile every time he appears on stage. His comedy is on point, and the interactions between him and Feste the fool were the most enjoyable parts of this piece.

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Photo: The Ocular Creative

While the talented cast present Shakespeare’s adaptation with spirit, it is McGregor’s exploration of the relationship between Sebastian and Antonio that is refreshing to see on stage. Viola’s twin Sebastian (Alex Stevens) is rescued by the sailor Antonio (Spencer Lee Osborne), and it appears the two have a sexual relationship. While some adaptations choose to ignore this “problematic” coupling, the director doesn’t shy away from the obvious attraction between the two, but brings it to the surface. Portraying their chemistry on stage is a delightful addition to the plot, which adds another layer of intrigue to Sebastian and Olivia’s pairing.

Running at just over two and a half hours (including an interval) it is always a joy to watch a Shakespeare piece that can engage and hold attention for that period of time. Packed full of comedy, romance, and superb acting, McGregor’s Twelfth Night is an enjoyable adaptation, and a wonderful addition to the Arrows & Traps canon.

Twelfth Night is at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 19th November.

Fool’s Court @ The Space

This October sees London’s first theatre festival celebrating the rich cultural heritage of Central Asia. Orzu Arts Festival plays host to a huge variety of performances and talks, giving Londoners the opportunity to engage with this part of the world. Konibodom State Drama Theatre from Tajikistan adds to this festival with their play Fool’s Court. Written and directed by Ovlyakuli Khodjakuli, the play fuses parts of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Hamlet, exploring the two stories from the perspective of the Fools. Embracing the clowns’ comedy and witty nature, Khodjakuli gives the two plays a new perspective and a humorous tone.

In the middle of the night, in a cemetery, three Fools appear troubled by their past. One says he is Hamlet, prince of Denmark, grieving the death of his father. He claims his uncle and mother were the cause of his death, and vows revenge. Another swears he is King Lear, distraught by the way his daughters have treated him, seeking to set things straight. With the help of the third Fool, the they set out to find and punish the people who have wronged them, recruiting the audience as judges to help make a decision: should they all die for their crimes?

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Although performed in Tajiki, Khodjakuli borrows some of the text from both Shakespeare’s plays, weaving his own words into this devised piece. The emphasis is made on the physical comedy of the characters, which helps bring down the language barriers, allowing the humour to come through. There is some audience participation in the show, as the three-man cast warrants a Goneril, Regan, Gertrude and Claudius from the audience, but this never becomes awkward. The participatory nature of the piece alleviates the comedy, allowing the clowns to enjoy interacting with everyone, and vice versa. Additionally, Khodjakuli’s choice to represent the characters of Hamlet and King Lear as Fools is a welcome interpretation, and one which neatly but grotesquely ties the two plays together. Overall, Fool’s Court, is an enjoyable piece of devised theatre, that mixes Shakespeare and clowning superbly, and is a brilliant addition to the Orzu Arts Festival.

Orzu Arts Festival runs until 20th October. 

Acorn @ The Courtyard Theatre

In this hour long dark comedy, Maud Dromgoole displaces the mythical stories of Persephone and Eurydice into the present, using these characters to explore the roles of women in modern society. Even though it starts off slowly, the striking images that appear throughout Acorn allows the play to pick up momentum, making it an enjoyable piece.

The play follows Eurydice as she prepares for her wedding day, excited to spend the rest of her life with her new husband. At the same time, Persephone, a Doctor, goes from patient to patient, trying to improve her bedside manner, which she is told she lacks. It seems as though these two women are worlds apart, but slowly their stories begin to intertwine, and when a snake-bite brings the two together, death becomes their shared destiny.

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The performance is hard to follow at first, even though Deli Segal as Persephone does her best in delivering the beginning monologue. But once the actors get into their stride, Dromgoole’s writing falls into place. Segal portrays the comedic elements of her character with strength, delivering her sarcasm brilliantly. Equally Lucy Pickles performs Eurydice’s humour with style, and it’s a joy to watch the two interact. Tatty Hennessy’s direction is fluid, which makes even the hard to understand scenes visually pleasing to watch. Additionally Tom Pearson’s projections combined with Matthew Strachan’s original score adds a sinister layer to the play, emphasising its ancient Greek influences.

In Greek mythology Persephone is the queen of the underworld, and the fact that she is presented as a doctor in the play is an unusual approach to the character, but a welcome one that challenges the concept of death. Dromgoole successfully manages to adapt the two women into a setting that makes them relatable, creating a very satsifying piece. Although it can be easy to lose track at times, the energy and imagery created by the performers makes Acorn worth your time.

Acorn is at The Courtyard Theatre until 29th October.

Girls @ Soho Theatre

Directed by Elayce Ismail, Theresa Ikoko’s new play Girls makes its London debut at Soho Theatre. This story of endurance and friendship follows three girls as they struggle to survive after being kidnapped. By mixing humour with the pain and conflict of desperation, Ikoko has created a striking play that is gripping from beginning to end.

Haleema (Anita-Joy Uwajeh), Tisana (Abiola Ogunbiyi) and Ruhab (Yvette Boakye) are taken from their families one day by a group of men who invade their village. Haleema is frustrated, yet remains strong, while Tisana, the youngest of the three, copes by constantly playing make-believe. Ruhab on the other hand becomes fond of one of the captors. As time goes on, life becomes increasingly dangerous for them, so Haleema comes up with a plan to escape. But will the other girls also risk their lives for freedom?

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Ikoko’s writing is powerful and the subjects explored resonate with you well after the end of the play. The poetic language and pop culture references are weaved into the text effortlessly, making the characters endearing and easily relatable, even if the situation they are in is alien. There is never a dull moment as the performers’ energy elevates into an inevitable tragedy. Uwajeh is fantastic as Haleema, perfectly capturing the character’s quick wit and strength. She is very entertaining and instantly likeable. Equally, Ogunbiyi and Boakye give great performances as Tisana and Ruhab respectively, and the chemistry between the three performers is insanely charming. They genuinely feel like the best of friends. The emotion echoed by Ikoko’s writing is brought to life with a hint of comedy, adding light to the dark subject.

The text is particularly powerful with its sentiment. We are never aware of the setting of the play, just that it is in Africa, but the resemblance of this story to the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram is no accident. Girls uses the fictional characters to give these children names and faces, highlighting their struggles, and forcing us to acknowledge who they are: just girls who like to talk about boys, sex, hair and Beyoncé. The emotional ending is unfortunately too realistic which is the most upsetting part of this piece, and the subtlety of Ikoko’s writing makes it all the more heart-breaking. With her masterful writing, you’re guaranteed laughs as well as some though-provoking themes that will stay with you once you have left the auditorium.

Girls is at Soho Theatre until 29th October.

Danger: Memory! @ Theatro Technis

Arthur Miller’s Danger: Memory! is a collection of two one-act plays that focus on memories, where he examines his own fears of death and dementia. Directed by Nathan Osgood, the two plays follow a set of characters as they attempt to look back at their past and make sense of it. While there are some stand out performances, particularly by the women of the piece, the lack of drama, dated language and static nature of the plays make this an uninteresting production.

The first play, I Can’t Remember Anything is a dialogue between friends Leo (Julian Bird) and Leonara (Deborah Javor), whose affectionate bickering is proof of their years of friendship. As they reminisce about their past, Leonara often chooses to forget things, and her own existence feels insignificant. Meanwhile Leo is more focused on the future and what he plans to do with his own body once he has died. The exchanges between the two are warm and genuine, and their constant quibbling is comedic. Javor is endearing as the poised and headstrong as Leonara, and she is the most enjoyable to watch in the collection of plays. Her calm tone is soothing, yet her powerful delivery presents Leonara’s humour with perfect energy. Bird’s performance compliments Javor’s, enabling her to stand out in this double bill.

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Photo: Dean Osgood

Moving on to the the second play, Clara, the theme of memory is still present, but the light-hearted tone of the first dissolves as this becomes more sinister. Albert Kroll (performed by Bird also) is being interrogated by Detective Fine (Anthony Taylor). Albert’s daughter Clara (Kristy Quade) has been found brutally murdered in her home and the detective is trying to establish who committed the crime. By delving deep into Albert’s past and his relationship with his daughter, Detective Fine uncovers the truth behind the mystery.

The investigative nature of Miller’s second play is a welcome change in tone, evoking drama and intrigue. However the performances fall short of expectation and what should be an engaging mystery lacks energy. Both Bird and Taylor lose their nondescript American accents throughout, which becomes awkward. Miller’s language also feels dated and this creates some uncomfortable moments at times. The redeemable element of the second play is the touching relationship between Albert and Clara. Although a very small part, Quade manages to portray her character’s sincerity and affection for her father well, which adds a spark of spirit to the piece. Overall, although Osgood’s direction adds movement to Danger: Memory!, the performances struggle to maintain attention, especially in the second piece.

Danger: Memory! is at Theatro Technis until 15th October.

 

Girls Night Out @ theSpace@Jury’s Inn, Edinburgh Fringe

A twenty-something young woman is preparing for a Saturday night out with the girls. However as she tries to get ready, she is constantly interrupted by her friends and members of her family. Eme Essien’s hour of brilliant comedy is full of hilariously relatable things women face when getting ready for nights out. By combining sound recordings with her performance, Essien brings to life different characters superbly, like Darnell – the guy you give your number to but instantly regret when he actually calls. Girls Night Out is a cleverly written and well performed one-woman show that demonstrates the realities that women face in their day-to-day lives.

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The sound recordings are masterfully weaved into the performance which allows Essien to skillfully speak to each character in an organic way. In particular her aunt from Nigeria is the one who stands out the most. Their conversation over Skype is an amusingly accurate sequence full of perfectly timed comedic miscommunication. While the show is funny and energetic, it also includes some home truths that affect woman. Essien looks at how independence is construed by different people and how aspirations are sometimes altered because of circumstance. She successfully introduces these ideas into the show in a way that makes them feel natural and familiar, which is instantly engaging. The show authentically presents the battles women are faced with and the expectations society has of them. Essien’s attitude is inspiring, and her hilarious performance makes Girls Night Out an impressive piece that is well worth a watch.

Girls Night Out is at theSpace@Jury’s Inn until 27th August. 

The Taming of the Shrew @ C South, Edinburgh Fringe

Performed  by Soon Chun Hyang University’ English Drama Club, The Taming of the Shrew is an up-beat and funky adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. The company fuse traditional Korean performance with modern-day hip hop to produce a hilariously bawdy play that explores the theme of harmony between old and new.

Katharina loves hip hop, but her father Baptista wants her to be more like her younger sister Bianca, who loves traditional Korean music and dance. Because of her amiable qualities, many of the village’s young men are fond of Bianca, but Baptista is only willing to let his daughter marry after her older sister has done so. The men hatch a plan to find a suitor for Kate, and Petruchio is seen to be a perfect match for her. Petruchio attempts to tame Kate’s non-traditional characteristics, and hilarity ensues, culminating into a happy ending for both of the sisters.

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The play is condensed into 60 minutes of energetic comedy. In particular Won Chui Choi is brilliant as Lucentio, who endearingly falls in love with various members of the audience before finally choosing Bianca. The lewd imagery is heightened by the performers’ amusing physical comedy, especially during the scene changes. While the clownish performances are humorous, there are some beautiful moments in the play too. The opening traditional dance is one of them, and the elegance of the performers skillfully moving around the sage is stunning. The best thing about the adaptation is Director Kim Han Baek’s focus on female empowerment. In the end of the play, Kate defies her “taming” by continuing her love for hip hop. The other performers join in with her dancing too, and the play marvellously ends with a strong female character challenging the norm, which makes this adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew superb.