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.