Of Kith and Kin @ Bush Theatre

Written by Chris Thompson, Of Kith and Kin is a compelling piece of new writing exploring issues surrounding surrogacy and relationships. With elements of humour weaved into dark themes, and some genuinely terrific performances, the show is an engaging way to delve into a challenging subject.

Oliver (Joshua Silver) and Daniel (James Lance) are having a baby with the help of their surrogate Priya (Chetna Pandya). The couple is smitten with each other and excited for the arrival of their new baby. But when Daniel’s mum (Joanna Bacon) crashes their baby shower, Oliver isn’t pleased with their uninvited guest, the small problems in their relationship rise to the surface. And when Daniel becomes physical with Oliver, Priya starts to think differently about the couple, and their new baby.
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Photo: Helen Murray

Lance commands the stage with ease, giving a very strong performance as the tenacious, and sometimes scary, Daniel. As his husband, Silver’s youthful Oliver is likeable at the start, but it quickly becomes apparent that he too has some dark and unpleasant traits. Both actors compliment each other well on stage.

Pandya’s Priya is sassy and sensitive and is heartbreaking to watch in the final scene. Donna Berlin as the judge is eloquent in her performance, but sometimes her lines feel awkward. This is especially apparent when she makes an uncomfortably placed joke, which feels slightly odd and uncharacteristic of an authority figure.

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Photo: Helen Murray

Bacon stands out the most as Daniel’s mum Carrie and draws out genuine laughter from the audiences as soon as she opens her mouth. At times her character is cringe-worthy and obnoxious, but you can’t help but delight in how she bursts onto the stage. Bacon also doubles as Priya’s solicitor Joanna, a role that comes across as more articulate and composed than the hot-headed Carrie, but with an equally powerful presence on stage. She is a delight to watch.

Thompson’s own experiences as a social worker have undoubtedly affected the story, and the emotions evoked in his text feel very raw. With Robert Hastie’s direction, the play is brought to life with incredible energy, each scene slowly building up to a dynamic event. Full of unexpected turns and character traits that come as a surprise, Of Kith and Kin is an enjoyable play that shines a light on contemporary, real-life domestic issues, and the sacrifices people make for loved ones.

Of Kith and Kin is at the Bush Theatre 25th November.

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Frankenstein @ Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

On the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it can be hard to grab the attention of theatregoers with another stage adaptation of the novel. But with its interesting interpretation of the classic, Arrows & Traps Theatre Company’s Frankenstein stands out from the crowd for including the novelist herself as a character within the play. Although this has the potential to come across as a cheesy gimmick, writer and director Ross McGregor’s choice to place her in the story actually gives a glimpse into the life of the woman behind this legendary tale, which produces an effective piece of theatre.

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Photo: Davor Tovarlaza (The Ocular Creative)

The show opens with a middle-aged Mary Shelley (Cornelia Baumann) suffering from an illness, experiencing flashbacks to her youth, and weaved into these personal stories is Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein (Christopher Tester) is a young scientist, interested in new inventions, constantly reading to broaden his knowledge, and struggling to come to terms with the death of his mother. Alongside this narrative, there is also that of his Creature (Will Pinchin), who, after being rejected by Frankenstein, is in hiding and befriends a blind young woman who teaches him to speak and read. At the same time, Shelley’s own life is in turmoil – she has eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a married man, at the disappointment of her father, and has a series of miscarriages. The parallels between her life and the story of Frankenstein is evident, and both culminate into tragic loss.

Baumann is exceptional as Mary Shelley. Her interpretation of the character is fully recognised, combining the author’s intelligence with her talent, while also creating someone the audience can sympathise with. It’s always inspiring to see a multi-layered female character on stage, and it’s equally enjoyable when the actor delivers this character with strength.

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Photo: Davor Tovaraza (The Ocular Creative)

As with all other Arrows & Traps shows, the ensemble work is on point, with strong direction from McGregor. Some notable performances include Pinchin as the Creature, who brings a perfect balance of terror and sensitivity to the character, with small bursts of comedy, which helps humanise him. Zoe Dales as Agatha, the blind woman who teaches the Creature how to speak, is worth a mention too, as the scenes between her and the Creature are some of the best in the piece. Full of emotion and subtly written humour, they’re a joy to watch.

McGregor has created an engaging and unique adaptation, with a well-written story and some welcome surprises. Ben Jacobs’ lighting design brilliantly elevates the ghoulish atmosphere, foregrounding the story’s magical element: electricity. What makes this Frankenstein stand out from the others is the fact that the audience gets to see the woman behind the monster story, her intellect and talent for writing, as well as her family and how a series of tragic events may have shaped her. Arrows & Traps’ play is a successful addition to the company’s innovative adaptations, and a perfect show to see this October.

Frankenstein is at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 21st October.

 

Zigger Zagger @ Wilton’s Music Hall

Written by Peter Terson, Zigger Zagger was the first piece of new writing commissioned by the National Youth Theatre. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the play is being staged at Wilton’s Music Hall, directed by Juliet Knight. With a cast of 50, the play about football hooliganism is loud and full of energy from its young performers. But at times this energy comes crashing down, and the change in pace makes it hard to keep the audience’s attention.

Harry Philton (Josh Barrow) is doing badly at school, and things at home aren’t much better. His mum (Ciara Wright) is constantly spending time with a different “uncle” every night, while his sister (Georgina Daniels) and her husband Les (Ebe Bamgboye) have settled down to a life of routine and television. Unsure of what to do, Harry turns to his friend Zigger Zagger, the leader of the football fans, who promotes sex, drink, and violence. In the end, though, it’s up to Harry to choose: a wholesome life in a menial job, conforming to society? Or football hooliganism and uncertainty?

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Photo: Nobby Clark

The most exciting part of this show is the way the company works together as an ensemble. They bring to life Terson’s text with stunning energy, and their collective chanting and singing are pure power. In particular, it’s the classroom, football and fight scenes that draw attention to their abilities as great performers. They are a force that takes over the stage, drawing you in, and you can’t help but smile. People around me were even chanting along with them.

It’s during the more intimate scenes, when only a handful of characters appear on stage, that the energy disappears. Barrow is unlikable as Harry, so instantly it becomes hard to sympathise with him. This makes the scenes with lengthier dialogue difficult to engage with, especially during the second half of the play. That isn’t to say there aren’t some very good moments in the piece and equally great performances.

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+44(0)7941-515770
+44(0)20-7274-2105
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Photo: Nobby Clar

Saffron Pooley’s singing is something to watch out for, as she makes a still moment purvey beautiful emotional with her voice. Teddy Robson as Zigger Zagger also gives a strong performance, with his cheeky chap antics. Even though his character is flawed, Robson manages to make him human and you can’t help wanting to see more. Equally, Patrick Bayele is memorable as the Magistrate, standing out with his articulate performance in this small role. One final mention has to go to Adam Smart, who, as the Youth Careers Advisor, is absolutely hilarious. His brilliant comedic timing is effortless, and even though he is on stage for a brief moment, he makes an impression.

Staging Zigger Zagger is obviously the best way to celebrate the play’s 50th anniversary. The young ensemble works extremely well together, and are amazing collectively on stage. While a number of scenes fall flat, there are some brilliant individual performances.

 

The Host @ The Yard Theatre

Produced as part of the National Youth Theatre’s East End Season, The Host is a new play written by Nessah Muthy, tackling the refugee crisis, poverty and race. With its talented young cast, inspired writing, and dynamic direction from Zoe Lafferty, the show is a great example of how difficult subjects can be tackled with humour and emotion.

Yasmin’s (Rebekah Murrell) sisters are struggling to make ends meet – Natalie (Jesse Bateson) cant repay her loan, Hayley (Taylor Keegan) has been forced to take time off work, and Pearl (Isabella Verrico) has taken up three jobs just to pay the rent. For them the answer is simple: Yasmin needs to move back in with them. Just scraping by with two jobs of her own, she doesn’t think that’s a good idea, and when refugee Rabea (Zakaria Douglas-Zerouali) appears on the estate without a place to stay, things get complicated. Yasmin agrees to host him, but how can she agree to help a complete stranger when her own family is in despair?

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Photo: Helen Maybanks

The urgency of the play is felt from the onset as the opening scene is a heated argument between sisters Yasmin and Natalie. The actors fire back and forth and each other, and it’s hard not to be immediately drawn in. Muthy’s writing is dynamic and fast-paced, but it never feels rushed. The ensemble is excellent on stage and they do complete justice to the text. In particular, it’s a pleasure to watch Murrell in action. She bursts on and off stage like a ball of energy and has glorious comic timing, yet it’s deeply moving to watch her in some of the stiller scenes.

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Photo: Helen Maybanks

Lafferty’s direction leaves the performers exposed, and even when they’re not in a scene, they still appear in the view of the audience – observing the action, sometimes scrutinising the characters’ choices. We’re forced as an audience to always be aware of the other characters even if they’re not actively a part of the action, which emphasises the play’s themes of poverty and displacement. Although there is no conclusion that draws everything to a close, the ending is still satisfying. You’re expected to ponder and consider what has been presented, and hopefully continue the discussion elsewhere.

Muthy looks at race within one family and draws parallels between Rabea and Yasmin that help us consider ourselves in relation to others, those who are strangers and those in our families, and what it even means to be English. In an ocean of post-Brexit plays talking about race and immigration, The Host stands out with its exploration of otherness in a clever and nuanced way, and with a genuinely talented cast.

Hir @ Bush Theatre

Taylor Mac’s satire Hir focuses on a typical American family that at one point in time might have been the perfect representation of the American Dream, but now this family has abandoned any form of order or convention. While some may see this as a cause for celebration, it’s met with disgust by others. Directed by Nadia Fall, and performed by a terrific cast, Hir is an exciting timely addition to the Bush Theatre’s reopening season.

Isaac (Arthur Darvill) has just returned from serving in the war to find his home unrecognizable. His dad Arnold (Andy Williams), once the head of the household and the breadwinner, is now a “vegetable” dressed up in a clown wig. His mum Paige (Ashley McGuire) has stopped cleaning the house and refuses to take care of Arnold. And his sister Max (Griffyn Gilligan) no longer accepts the pronouns she or her, but prefers ze or hir. All Isaac wants to do is get back to normal, but that’s hard when normal doesn’t exist anymore.

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Photo: Ellie Kurttz

The cast is terrific and really do justice to Mac’s text, and with Fall’s direction, the writer’s language is made prominent in this energetic staging. With long speeches, Paige takes her time explaining her new found knowledge of the LGBTQ+ community and queer politics. It’s during these speeches that McGuire’s excitable Paige really commands the stage, like her character has taken charge of her life, bringing to life Mac’s comedy brilliantly. Equally, Gillian deliver’s Max’s monologues with compassion – in particular, hir speech about Leonardo da Vinci being a trans woman is entertaining to watch and is a demonstration of Mac’s creative imagination.

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Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Darvill portrays the bewildered Isaac well, his physical comedy is especially gross and funny – although it is difficult to get used to his American accent at first. But its Williams that slyly steals the show in his own way – you won’t be able to stop watching him, even though his presence can make you feel uncomfortable. Arnold is pitiful at the start, covered in make-up by his wife and forced to wear a dress – the ultimate humiliation for a man who used to epitomise masculinity. His stroke has made him unable to do things for himself so it’s tough to watch Paige degrade him. But as the play goes on and Arnold’s true abusive nature is revealed, it’s hard to feel sorry for how he is treated by his wife and Max.

Finally, Ben Stones’ chaotic set also deserves a mention too as it fully captures the breakdown of this small town family, and the attention to detail is immaculate – there is method to its madness. Hir is packed full of concepts that can be quite baffling for some people, and it is obvious that the show is not everyone’s cup of tea. But it’s full of energy, laughs and themes that get darker as the play goes on, so you can’t really pull yourself away from it.

Hir is at the Bush Theatre until 22nd July.

The Happy Theory @ The Yard Theatre

Another cohort of Generation Arts’ talented performers come together for their end of year gala performance to showcase their abilities, and as usual, it’s a delight. The company aims to train aspiring actors from marginalised backgrounds for free, and the majority of these performers go on to drama schools. This year’s performance The Happy Theory is devised by the young company themselves, directed by Ali Godfrey, and is a massive burst of energy that has you laughing all the way through.

As school comes to an end, a class of students is debating a question put forward to them by their teacher: can money buy happiness? For some, the answer to this is straightforward, but to others it’s complicated, and for all of them it’s a way to consider their next steps in life. They just need to learn to accept their difference, but that’s easier said than done.

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The piece weaves the stories of each of the characters together neatly, holding your attention throughout. The ensemble is terrific and mesh well together, and in true Generation Arts style, everyone is encouraged to play to their strengths. This allows gems like Helder Fernandes and Robert O’Reilly to shine with their over-the-top comedy that leaves the audience roaring with laughter. The perfectly timed subtle humour of Elena Burciu, who plays the lovable and bumbling teaching assistant Ms Simmons, is also a brilliant addition to the piece.

The most touching relationship is the one between teacher Jada – a strong performance by Tania Nwachukwu – and her younger sister Denise who is scared to leave her house. Adrienne Bailey gives a nuanced performance as Denise, capturing the character’s fears well. The two have a powerful bond on stage that adds warmth to the play. Jay Martin as Ethan, a young student struggling to cope with his mother’s terminal cancer, is also deserving of a mention. His performance is touching and heartfelt, and the final speech he delivers is deeply moving.

Overall Generation Arts have created a piece full of laugh-out-loud humour and emotional scenes, that showcases the talent of their students while celebrating difference. This year’s ensemble is destined to go on and do great things.

Find out more about Genertion Arts. The Happy Theory is at The Yard Theatre until 24th June.

Aisha @ Hen and Chickens Theatre

Child marriage is still prevalent in the UK, putting thousands of young people at risk every year, so it is not surprising to see the subject explored on the stage. In his debut Aisha, writer and director AJ fuses spoken word influenced text with the difficult discussion of this practice to portray affects it can have on victims. The text is brutal and evocative, but at times the title character’s voice is drowned out, making the story hard to follow.

At 14, Aisha was forced to marry a man three times her age, fulfilling her parents’ wishes and their Muslim-Nigerian traditions. Now she’s 17, tortured daily by her “husband”, locked in her home, and made to cater to his every wish. She’s stopped caring about her life and is more concerned about her unborn baby’s, who gives her a glimmer of hope and the strength she needs to survive.

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The style in which AJ pens Aisha’s speech is poignant. His use of poetic language, a reference to the character’s childhood dream of becoming a writer, is Shakespeare-esque, setting her apart from the other characters. She quotes from her mini Oxford dictionary, rhythmically, like taking part in a spelling bee contest, another nod to her juvenile state. The opening is harrowing and will cause discomfort for anyone watching, as will some of the scenes involving Aisha’s physical torture. Performed by Laura Adebisi as Aisha – her stage debut – the opening speech gives a horrifyingly descriptive account of her rape. You will struggle to take your eyes off Adebisi’s strong performance. It’s apparent from the onset that this is about Aisha, and she will be telling her own story without others diluting her account.

As the play goes on, we are introduced to other characters: her stern and traditional mother (Sabrina Richmond); her husband and torturer (Ayo Oyelakin); his friend Mr White (Lloyd Morris); a blabbering doctor (Alexander Lincoln) who also functions as a some comedic relief. Yet as each character appears, the timeline of the play becomes confusing, altering the piece from being Aisha’s own linear story, to one about those around her. This removes her voice from the discussion, and consequently it is hard to continue to concentrate on what is happening.

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The most frustrating moment comes in the form of a dialogue between Mr White and Aisha’s husband during a poker game. Mr White goes on a racist rant complaining about Muslims and praising Brexit, to which Aisha’s husband shrugs and agrees. AJ weaves religion and cultural traditions into the piece through Aisha’s parents’s background, and uses it as a way for their justification of her marriage, but even so, this short scene feels like an outlier within the play. The writer does not expand on the theme of religion, but only refers to it on occasion. AJ tries to draw parallels between religions by including the support worker’s background (a small role and composed performance by Olivia Valler-Feltham), who was groomed and raped by a priest when she was a child, but this comes across as a throwaway comment. It seems as though this is supposed to be an unexpected twist in the story, but its execution is underwhelming and flat. More could have been done to discuss abuses of power, whether in the hands of religion or tradition, which feels like it’s missing from this play, instead of leaving them in the background without expanding.

Aisha begins with an undeniably moving and strong performance by Adebisi, and stirring poetry by AJ. But over the course of an hour and a half, the point of the story is lost as the playwright desperately tries to create a profound comment on child abuse, instead of sharing the story of the incredible young survivor.

Aisha is at the Hen and Chicken’s Theatre until 24th June.