Knife Edge @ POND Dalston

Written by David Watson and directed by Maggie Norris, Knife Edge is the performance created by The Big House, a charity that works to support care leavers, offenders and young people at risk of offending. The stories presented in the play are the experiences of the people the charity works with, as are the cast themselves. This makes the show very intriguing, as well as a genuinely brilliant piece of work.

We are introduced to The Girl With No Name (Tezlym Senior Sakutu) at the start of the play, as she questions what she is doing with her life by spending it with her boyfriend Aaron (Adam Deacon) in Nando’s. When she realises their relationship isn’t leading to anywhere good, we go on her journey of self discovery. As the play goes on, we meet her dad, the cool but hot-headed Delroy (Dymond Allen) who tell his daughter about a new restaurant he is opening. Just as The Girl begins to see a potential in their rocky relationship, the tragedy that follows prevents that. But that leads her to find a purpose in life, a passion in the form of a Hawaiian restaurant.

2753ashm_034.jpgIt is important to note that the majority of the cast are not professional actors, which is hard to believe because the performances are brilliant. Sakutu as The Girl With No Name stands out as the lead character, taking charge of the space effortlessly. It’s really refreshing to see a young woman who has never performed before shine so well and lead a show. The comedy in the play was on point, and embodied brilliantly by Allen’s character. His hilarious delivery captured Delroy’s energy, but he was also able to present to the audience his more temperamental characteristics. Additionally, Deacon, a long time supporter of The Big House, gave an impressive performance as Aaron, in his usual urban style which is always an enjoyable watch.

2753ashm_406.jpgAs a promenade performance the audience are guided around the restaurant space, accompanied by the beat of a drum, and combinations of singing and rapping. The music is quite a key aspect to the show as it brings everyone together at the end of the performance, to prepare for the luau – a feast made for sharing. Knife Edge really encompasses the togetherness and importance of community. The themes very much look at how important it is to have a support network when things get hard, something which The Big House also supports.

It’s always great to see such a diverse cast, and representations of narratives that differ from what is considered mainstream. The fact that these stories get their own platform is inspiring, and is representative of the changing landscape of theatre in London. As much as Knife Edge is a show that highlights these experiences, it is also a showcase of young, raw talent. With a great cast, tasty Hawaiian food, funky music, and an important message, Knife Edge is not to be missed.

Knife Edge is at POND restaurant until 12th June. Find out more about The Big House.

Sex Workers’ Opera @ The Pleasance

Created by sex workers, their friends and their families, Sex Workers’ Opera is a show that brings together a collection of verbatim performance, some very funny sketch scenes, dance, poetry, song, video and much more. It is bold and sexy, and although it can feel awkward at times, it has some very touching moments.

Co-directors Alex Etchart and Siobhan Knox use a mother-daughter relationship to frame the action on stage. The mother serves as a tool to question the actions of the daughter, a sex-worker, and comes to represent the voice of ordinary people: those who can never fully understand sex-workers. Presenting the mother in this way allows the action to be naturally guided by questions the mother would like answers to about sex-work, helping audiences understand the characters and their stories.

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Photo: Julio Etchart

The piece brings up legitimate and important points raised by those who do sex work as a profession, bringing to light stereotypes and perceived expectations. There is humour in the piece, such as a scene depicting different types of pornography, and what the government deems “acceptable”. But serious issues are also discussed, like the disadvantages of criminalisation, the effects sex work has on people and their families, and the safety of sex workers themselves. Etchart and Knox tackle these issues lightly, with humour and sketch, as well as  with some very intimate and touching moments.

The delivery of the stories is authentic, and the sincerity of the performers draws in the audience. For example Vera Rodriguez’s touching story about her life as a sex worker, her abusive partner, and the consequences of their relationship. Her interest in photography shines through the stunning photos projected on the screen. Rodriguez was also one of the strongest performers, the skit between her and her client asking for relationship advice was the funniest moment in the show.

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Photo: Julio Etchart

The interactions between mother and daughter were a chance for the audience to question the scenes before and reflect on what they had witnessed. However the repetitiveness of the dialogue in these transitions felt uncomfortable at times. It would have been better if they were kept shorter , which would have helped with the awkwardness of the performances. Additionally, the technical elements of the transitions as a whole were very weak and felt under-rehearsed. This meant there was a lot of waiting and watching people move things around on stage. If they were slicker, this would have cut down on the running time, which at 3 hours (including the interval) feels too long.

This isn’t to say, however, that the show isn’t worth watching. The intriguing characters, their lives, their stories, and how they deal with adversity is the Sex Workers’ Opera‘s soul. The cast is comprised of those who identify as straight, LGBTQI, have disabilities, and hail from around the world, and their diversity is celebrated. The show tackles a serious issue in a very theatrical way, making it accessible, enlightening, and a great show to see.

Sex Workers’ Opera is at The Pleasance until 29th May

A Kingdom for a Stage @ Chelsea Theatre

In the year celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, London is bustling with theatre celebrating the Bard. Tony Diggle’s play A Kingdom for a Stage brings together Shakespeare and his contemporaries in a story that switches between the afterlife, present-day London, and Early Modern Stratford-Upon-Avon. While the play explores interesting aspects of Shakespeare’s life and works, the mismatch of ideas created by Diggle become quite dull at points.

Shakespeare is sitting wide-eyed staring at the audience. Around him, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, George Bernard Shaw, and Puck try to understand what has placed him in this state of shock. It becomes apparent that he has written a new play after visiting the present-day City of London. To establish whether or not the play is any good, the group of players decide it should be acted out. While this is going on, Shakespeare looks back to his youth and his life in Statford-Upon-Avon, thinking about his wife Anne. Finally, the play ends with a song and prologue delivered by the Bard himself.

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Photo: Charlene Segeral

The playwrights arguing and jesting with each other in the opening of the play is very enjoyable, and starts the show off on a high. Diggle playfully includes references to each of the characters’ work and history in these scenes, which is appreciated by those who can pick them up in the audience. The rivalry between Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson is hilarious to watch. However, as the play moves into Stratford-Upon-Avon in the middle part of the first half, the dialogue begins to get stuffy. Although the historical content is interesting, and Diggle interprets Shakespeare’s home life in a unique way, the lengthiness of the dialogue becomes tedious. The conversations between Anne and Shakespeare’s father John feels very static, and the fact that it goes on for so long without much action means it is easy to become distracted.

In the second half, the players perform Shakespeare’s newly written play. Diggle cleverly uses it as a social commentary on the state London is in now: the hustle and bustle of the city, money, the stock market, loans, banks, and the desperation of its people. The language of the play within a play is very poetic, and Diggle weaves into it lines from Shakespeare’s own plays. It is a modern-day morality play, as Shaw remarks, complete with Marlowe’s own Mephistopheles and Seven Deadly Sins. But after this ends, the action goes back to its flat self. It seems the Bard’s trips to Stratford-Upon-Avon cannot be completed unless a boring soliloquy or dialogue ensues. Maybe it is just the fact that the London Shakespeare is far more interesting than the family man.

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Photo: Charlene Segeral

The ensemble are brilliant and there are some great stand-out performances. Jonathan Coote is admirable as Will Shakespeare, the poetry rolling off his tongue with ease, and commanding the stage like an excellent player. Christopher Knott’s short but hilarious visit as an Angel adds wonderful comedy to the piece. Caitlin McMillan as Mephistopheles does a tremendous job as the alluring and damming character.

While the ideas presented by Diggle are a great concept, it seems in this instance they do not work well together. There are too many ideas trying to be placed into one play. On the one hand, there is the delightful conversation between the great playwrights, and Shakespeare’s visit to present-day London (which I wish was longer) and consequently the brilliantly written play within the play. On the other hand, the long dialogues between members of Shakespeare’s family, and his relationship with his wife and daughters, drags the play out, which outweighs the great elements of A Kingdom for a Stage.

A Kingdom for a Stage is at the Chelsea Theatre until 7th May