The Long Road South @ King’s Head Theatre

Written by Paul Minx, The Long Road South was first performed at the Hope Theatre in 2014 as part of the So-and-So Arts Club’s Hopefull Rep season. Now at the King’s Head Theatre, director Sarah Berger brings to life this play exploring themes of race and family during the 60s in the American South, and does so in an interesting and enjoyable way.

Andre (Cornelius Macarthy) and his partner Grace (Krissi Bohn) work for the Price household as their hired help. It is now the end of summer, and the two want to head to Alabama to play their part the Civil Rights movement. While Andre waits patiently for the end of the day to receive his pay from Jake Price (Michael Brandon), Jake’s teenage daughter Ivy (Lydea Perkins) does all she can to prevent Andre from leaving. With Jake’s wife Carol Ann (Imogen Stubbs) getting increasingly drunk throughout the evening, Ivy attempting to seduce him, Grace  calling him a weak man, and Jake doing everything to avoid paying him, Andre increasingly gets frustrated, which leads to a complicated departure.

(l-r) Cornelius Macarthy as Andre (1)

Photo: Truan Munro

Minx’s writing enables Andre’s characters to develop throughout the play, which is what makes him so interesting. He begins as a man comfortable in his surroundings, attached to the house he has worked in for so long, and the family he has served. Unlike Grace, who is headstrong and willing to head to Alabama as quick as she can to help the cause, Andre is more contemplative. By the end however, he is stronger, encouraged by the thought of his daughter and the power of freedom. Macarthy is brilliant as Andre. He is very engaging and brings to the stage a very dignified character. Equally Bohn is great on stage as the smart and passionate Grace. She was my favourite, and I wish Minx would have developed her character further alongside Andre’s.

(l-r) Imogen Stubbs, Michael Brandon, Krissi Bohn, Lydea Perkins, Cornelius Macarthy

Photo: Truan Munro

Stubbs is terrific as wife Carol Ann. She is hilarious as she stumbles across the stage holding a rum and coke, dressed only in a slip and lime-green robe. Her portrayal of the drunk housewife is hilarious but also quite sad. Her drinking is due to her son who is absent from the play, and we are told he is in a home. This was another aspect of the play I wish Minx could have discussed further. While we were told the Price’s son was away, we were not told the circumstances in which he had to leave. All we saw was an empty chair Carol Ann still insisted was served a plate of dinner. I really wanted to find out more about their son, but I feel like this narrative was unfortunately abandoned towards the end of the play.

(l-r) Krissi Bohn as Grace, Cornelius Macarthy as Andre

Photo: Truan Munro

The Long Road South is a good piece of writing with some amusing and some striking characters, and Berger has successfully directed an enjoyable piece of theatre. However the text does need development in some of its characterisation, but the best part of this play is Andre’s story and Minx tell this in an engaging way. Combined with Macarthy’s brilliant performance, Andre as a character is spectacular, enough to make this play worth a watch.

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The State vs John Hayes @ King’s Head Theatre

A part of King’s Head Theatre’s upcoming #Festival45, which showcases new writing, The State vs John Hayes is a brilliant one-act piece written and performed by Lucy Roslyn. The show explores identity and insanity in a disturbingly spectacular way.

We are introduced to Elyese Dukie, who is alone in her prison cell on death row. She tells us about her husband, and her girlfriend, and her relationships with other women in the prison. She also tells us about John Hayes, her other, more violent persona. It seems that Elyese finds it easier to accept the murders when she feels like John has committed them.

Roslyn has written a great piece of work. The dark and poetic language is made even more appealing by her fantastic performance as Elyese. She effortlessly draws people in, talking directly to the audience, listening to everyone’s reactions. Especially as her persona changes to the very charismatic John, we hang onto his every word, eager for him to like us too. But Roslyn is quick to remind us that Elyese is still there. There is a beautiful moment when she remembers her child and giving him up for adoption, and the we see a glimpse of the real Elyese hidden behind her conflicting personas.

The State vs John Hayes is tremendous from start to finish. Roslyn is extremely engaging and delivers a captivating performance. She has created a psychological roller coaster headed by a charismatic murderer who easily manipulates the audience. 60 minutes is not long enough for this show. It left me wanting more.

Titus Andronicus @ New Wimbledon Studio

The Shakespeare adaptations of the theatre company Arrows & Traps have always been very enjoyable. Director Ross McGregor is very good at producing great pieces of work of which the components are thought out well, and fit comfortably around certain themes. This process allows him to successfully present interesting adaptations. On this occasion however, Titus Andronicus falls short of what I have been used to with the company’s work.

General Titus Andronicus has defeated the Goths and captured their Queen Tamora, returning to Rome with her and her sons as prisoners. As a sacrifice to the Gods, Tamora’s eldest son is killed. While this is happening, Rome is to decide who will be their leader, and they are forced to choose between brothers Saturninus and Bassianus. When the choice falls down to Titus, he picks Saturninus, who asks Tamora to rule Rome with him as his Queen. She agrees, and so begins Tamora’s revenge for her murdered son.

Samuel Morgan Grahame (Lucius), Matthew Ward (Titus) & Remy Moynes (Lavinia), Titus Andronicus, New Wimbledon Studio (c) Zoltan Almasi

McGregor has modernised the play’s setting, which works well most of the time. I especially liked the way the play begins with projections of news reports, where the audience are given an insight into the characters of Saturninus and Bassianus. Twitter is also used in the play, helping alert the Romans of Saturninus’ crimes, and speeches are spread with the help of phones. I think this aspect of the play was very well executed. McGregor does well in commenting on how the government is presented in the media, and how social media especially can manipulate circumstance. However, this choice in setting feels odd at times. For example. the Clown (a hilarious performance by Annie McKenzie) is told to physically deliver a written message to Saturninus, which seems out of place around the Wii controllers and the MacBook.

The play is known for its overt violence and blood, which makes it so spectacular when staged. This is what is missing in this adaptation. Lavinia’s (portrayed by Remy Moynes) face and body is covered in blood, but the reveal of her cut tongue was not very eye-catching. Also the cutting of Titus’ hand was not bloody enough, and the prop hand was comical, which is not the desired effect of bloody limbs in the context of the play. Sadly, these aspects take away from the good elements of this adaptation.

Matthew Ward (Titus) and Members of the Company, Titus Andronicus, New Wimbledon Studio (c) Zoltan Almasi

Elizabeth Appleby is equal amounts scary and powerful as Tamora, manipulating her way through the play. Opposite her, Spencer Lee Osborne is great as Aaron, funny at times but also very sinister. He is very Iago-esque in the way he manipulates the audience into liking him, something I was sucked into very easily. Matthew Ward as the title character is powerful, though seems too gentle at times, and almost fragile, appearing with a cane at first. Ward picks up this power, and in the brilliant banquet scene he is just the right amount of comedic and sinister. My favourite choice of casting is Cornelia Baumann as Marcia Andronicus. I admire McGregor’s choice of presenting a female Marcus. In a play where a Queen approves of a young girl being raped and dismembered, it is nice to see a female character resented in a powerful and positive way. Baumann was spectacular, and her passion for her country and her family was truly believable.

Titus Andronicus is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. The blood and gore, the violence, the overtly sexual characters are some aspects of this play which makes it appealing. The story is exciting, and if presented in a certain way, it can reflect modern politics, which will make it topical and therefore an interesting choice of play to adapt. But in this instance, the lack of violence and gore is disappointing for me. I am a big fan of Arrows & Traps, and they usually deliver outstanding Shakespeare, but this time their Titus Andronicus was just not as impressive.

Playground @ Old Red Lion Theatre

Enid Blyton’s books may have been the inspiration for Playground, but luckily knowledge of the Famous Five is not necessary for enjoying this play. The underlying mystery is really just a way for writer Peter Hamilton to use a set of characters to explore social problems. The play discusses mental health, perceptions of individuals in society, and the idea of community. This does sound too heavy for a night out at the pub, but the dark comedy employed by the writer allows these subjects to be looked at successfully.

Christopher James Barley as DC Birch

Christopher James Barley as DC Birch

Playground is set in Victoria Park, where murders have taken place. The victims, all children, have been decapitated, and the murderer has left a Famous Five book on each of the bodies. Detectives Mitchell and Birch (played by Dan MacLane and Christopher James Barley respectively) are in charge of solving the case, and in this process, the audience meets five characters who could potentially have carried out the killings. Walthamstow lad Stuart (Simon Every), and posh communist Tamsin (Laura Garnier) know each other from Bow Road Psychiatric Unit, and visit the park frequently. So does Danny (Richard Fish), a former psychiatric patient and current night cleaner at Canary Wharf, and Carolyn (Josie Ayers), who he saves from an attempted suicide. Then there’s Bella (Sarah Quist), who runs the cafe at the park, and is dishonest about her past. When Danny decides to form a book club inviting everyone to join, his choice of books to read might hold a clue to who amongst the group is the murderer.

Josie Ayres and Richard Fish, Playground, Old Red Lion Theatre (c) Cameron S Harle

Josie Ayres as Carolyn and Richard Fish as Danny

Fish is brilliant as Danny and presents his strangeness with likeability, making him an eerie yet endearing character. Barkey’s cross-dressing Birch is hilarious, and the relationship between him and MacLane’s Mitchell is never really fully disclosed, which I really liked. It allows for the audience to make up their own mind about what they are seeing. Garnier’s character Tamsin became quite grating after a while, and I found myself rolling my eyes every time she spoke in the second half of the play. I could have done with less talk of “revolution”, and more talk of racial tensions, which Hamilton very briefly touches on with the character Stuart, who we find out was amongst an EDL protest once. There was scope to expand on this I think, especially as the play is set in East London, but fails to include more than one BAME actor on stage.

Laura Garnier as Tamsin

The set is interesting on first observation. Director and designer Ken McClymont has used scaffolding to create a climbing frame, complete with an old tyre swig. The structure forefronts the large Enid Blyton book covers surrounding it, so the audience are constantly reminded of the mystery unfolding. Juxtaposing the darkness of the content with the brightly coloured covers does highlight the grossness of the murdered children, which is also emphasised by Quist’s Bella repeatedly singing the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons. She has a beautiful voice so I loved every time she appeared in the shadows.

The characters are interesting, and the play is dark and hilarious, which is what makes it so entertaining. In terms of a conclusion? I have no idea, but what I do know is it was an enjoyable evening of theatre which I would recommend.

Money Womb @ Theatre503

Theatre Company Velvet Trumpet are back with another show which shines a light onto London and the people within it. Money Womb is a thought-provoking comedy by Nick Smith which explores change and growth, performed by two very talented actors.

The audience are invited to listen to Peter Finch, a temp who works in the City of London, tell them about how he has come to be waiting alone in his flat on Christmas Eve, for his ex girlfriend. Beginning his story from when he and Hannah Jessop first met, the audience is taken onto a journey which begins in the Midlands and finishes in London. Performed by a combination of intertwining monologues and duologues, Peter’s story explores relationships and parenthood, and the ever-changing nature of London. The city seems like an ideal place to an outsider, but once Peter and Hannah arrive, the bagels of Brick Lane are not what they seem, putting a strain on their relationship and their expectations.

Jon Cottrell as Peter Finch; Asha Reid as Hannah Jessop

Jon Cottrell as Peter Finch; Asha Reid as Hannah Jessop

It is difficult to keep an audience captivated for such a long time, but Jon Cottrell as Peter is brilliant at drawing in and keeping everyone’s attention. He embodies the character brilliantly, balancing the comedy with the darker elements of the play perfectly. Equally, Asha Reid as Hannah is great opposite Cottrell. The change from her young, care-free character, to her older, more mature self later on in the play is very convincing. In the space of 90 minutes, the two successfully present the comedy of Smith’s writing, while also portraying the deeper thoughts he evokes.

For a play with only two people, the 90 minute length is just very slightly too long, but the two actors do well in energising the audience to keep them entertained. Overall, I think Money Womb is a very well written piece exploring life in London, and the change and fortune people hope it will bring to them, I would definitely recommend.

The Bald Prima Donna @ Upstairs at The Gatehouse

Theatre company Slip of the Lip have brought to the stage a very engaging adaptation of Eugène Ionesco’s play The Bald Prima Donna. With its emphasis on language and communication, and bizarre little stories weaved into the action, this comedy is very entertaining to watch.

The play is set in the living room of Mr and Mrs Smith (Brian Merry and Griselda Williams), a middle-class couple who live in the the suburbs of London. Their mundane chatter is interrupted by their maid Mary (Annie McKenzie), who announces that Mr and Mrs Martin have arrived for dinner, four hours late. The Martins talk to each other like they are strangers, and although they realise they have been married for years, Mary is not convinced. The Captain of the Fire Brigade (Guy Remy) arrives looking for a fire, but instead begins to tell strange stories. In the end of the play, the story goes back to the begin, and the banality of the English suburbs is repeated, just with a different couple.

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Ionesco’s absurdist play is staged very well by director Paul Hoskins. The minimal set is enough to indicate the setting, but not overpowering enough to distract from the language, which is the most important element of the performance. The actors engulf the play’s absurdity effortlessly, which makes the comic elements of the play stand out. As an ensemble, the performers are enjoyable to watch. Peter Easterbrook and Alice Devine stand out as Mr and Mrs Martin respectively. The two bounce off perfectly from each other especially during their first scene together. The repetitive language never once became boring, and actually with each line, the two were even more engaging and comical. They were very enjoyable to watch.

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The show does have a few minor issues, mainly in its technical aspects. The clock sound was sometimes delayed and other sound problems were elevated by the fact that they were during speeches. But this never became problematic enough to distract from the piece. The beginning of the second half of the play also seemed less rehearsed, as at a few points the actors interrupted each other. However, the chaos of the second half of the text allows for these minor issues to blend in with the action on stage, and does not take away from the overall success of the show.

In my opinion Slip of the Lip have successfully created an enjoyable staging of a great play. The cast are great as a team, balancing the comedy with the drama very well, which brings to the stage a very well presented adaptation.

Henry V @ The Tramshed

I have found that it can be difficult to make Shakespeare’s history plays engaging as most audiences do not find them as interesting as his other work. This is why The Merely Players’ Henry V was a pleasant surprise, and what makes this contemporary adaptation more interesting is director Scott Ellis’ gender-blind casting.

After the death of his father, Henry V (Zena Carswell) becomes King of England. When the King of France mocks him by sending him tennis balls, Henry decides to invade France. He proves to be a successful leader, walking amongst his troupes and going into battle himself. Henry triumphantly leads England to victory, and in the end of the play, his marriage to the French King’s daughter Catherine establishes a strong relationship between the two countries.

The performance has some very notable aspects which makes it a great piece. Ellis has used a football setting for the play, transferring the war between the two countries into a match between two teams. This transformation is appropriate, as both are about camaraderie and triumph. As there are only five actors, the use of the football shirts helps the audience differentiate between the characters, and highlights the different sides. I especially liked the use of the shirts during the scene where Henry discovers he has been betrayed by Scroop, Cambridge and Grey. Hanging the shirts on a washing line allowed Carswell’s Henry to interrogate the three conspirators perfectly, but also brought elements of comedy to this scene. It was very interesting to watch.

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Carswell is very powerful as Henry, and she is able to easily convince the audience of her ability to lead a country to triumph. Emmy Rose’s portrayal of Catherine is very elegant, and when playing the Boy, she is very funny, especially during the translation scene. Equally, Stephen Leask, as Catherine’s lady-in-waiting Alice, is hilarious. The audience could not stop laughing every time he appeared on stage. The team work well as an ensemble, switching between each role seamlessly and presenting each character convincingly to the audience. Even though there were just five of them on stage, the team perfectly presented the play’s “thousand parts”.

The company’s stripped-back approach allows the audience to focus on Shakespeare’s language and the characters. The added bonus is that Ellis has fit everything into 90 minutes. Yes this means some of the plot is subtracted from the play, but for this type of production, in this venue especially, the length is perfect. Additionally, the company’s gender-blind casting gives the talented female actors an opportunity to take on Shakespeare’s great roles. The Merely Players have created a very entertaining and engaging adaptation of Henry V.