The Collector @ The Vaults Theatre

Based on John Fowles’ novel The Collector, Mark Healy’s new play brings to the stage the classic thriller in a more updated setting. While the story is gripping, and the set is beautifully put together, the lengthiness of the performance prolongs the discomfort caused by the characters, creating an unexciting conclusion for an otherwise entertaining play.

Frederick (Daniel Portman) is a butterfly collector, obsessively collating the beasts for his own pleasure. When he wins the lottery, his obsession reaches an ultimate level. Instead of wasting his time at the job centre, he uses his money to buy a cottage and convert the basement into a special guestroom – one for his new obsession, Miranda (Lily Loveless). Once kidnapped, Miranda realises using force is useless again Frederick, and instead sttempts to appeal to his emotional side, his obsessive, “loving” character. But in the end, Miranda turns into just another of Frederick’s collected specimens – a beautiful, lifeless butterfly.

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Photo: Scott Rylander

Portman’s Frederick is sinister yet there are aspects to his character that makes him pitiful. He craves the attention of Miranda, yet is aware that his background limits his abilities to speak to her. When he speaks, he directs his speech to the audience, drawing everyone in. His sincerity and soft-spoken demeanor allows the audience to overlook his immoral actions at the start. Healy uses Miranda’s diary as a vessel for her to tell the audience her inner emotions. She describes how frightened she is of being in the grasps of her captor, and how she now has a different perspective on life. But on stage Loveless is unable to passionately express these feelings. The act of her kidnapping and the state she is in is horrific, yet it is hard to like and tolerate her character. Portman on the other hand managers to get the audience onto his side. His unintentional humour and sympathetic character makes Frederick endearing, and it is easy to hope he makes a reciprocal connection with the woman he is in love with. But this feeling stops towards the end of the play when things get violent and physically threatening.

The set is very well put together by Max Dorey, who uses the space to epitomise Miranda’s claustrophobia. The antique-looking furniture shoved to the sides of the stage, is contrasted by the shelves at the back stocked with bottled water, Diet Coke, and toothbrushes, creating an uneasy atmosphere. This discomfort is represented by Joe Hufton’s direction, which is static and uncomfortable, and therefore mirrors Miranda’s desire to leave. The action however does go on for too long, and the pace towards the conclusion slows down instead of being more energetic. Consequently, the ending does not have an intense impact as perhaps it could have. The first half of Healy’s play is engaging, and Portman’s Frederick is a delight to watch, but it is the underplayed and insignificant finale that lets down  The Collector.

The Collector is at The Vaults Theatre until 28th August.

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Half of Me @ Lyric Hammersmith

Created in collaboration between Generation Arts and Tamasha Theatre Company, Half of Me follows a young girl as she discovers the truth about her genetic roots. The play, written by Satinder Chohan, explores the experiences by people born  as a result of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). Chohan’s text is intriguing and poetic, and brought to life dynamically by the performers of Generation Arts.

Areia (Erica Kouassi) feels different from her family. On a trip to a museum displaying Greek Antiquities, she is drawn to a stone statue, and is overwhelmed by its power and the feelings it evokes. She collapses, and wakes up with her parents around her, discussing her illness: she has a hole in her heart, a genetic condition. Areia finds out the man she has know her life as as her father (Hakeem Jacobs), is actually not biologically connected to her. The hole in her heart is not just a physical defect for Areia, but a metaphorical one too. She decides to head to Greece to find the sperm donor who gave her life, and on the way, discovers the meaning of family.

Generation Arts. "Half Of Me".

Erica Kouassi as Areia

The ensemble work very well together, and their movement during the physical sections of the piece are precise and visually appealing. As a Greek chorus, they are in sync with one another, engaging with the audience when telling Areia’s story. Kouassi who leads the show as Areia is a brilliant performer, embodying the character’s determination flawlessly. It is really enjoyable to see a strong, young, female lead encompass the stage so well. Another performer who stands out amongst the group is Nathan Wallace-Auguste, who hilariously portrays a member of the Greek court with his over-the-top performance, heightening the comedy of the role.

The  contemporary subject matter of Half of Me makes it a fresh and therefore interesting piece of new writing aimed at young people. Chohan’s exploration of non-traditional family structures, the laws surrounding the anonymity of donors, and how these affect those born by ART is an important topic to consider and discuss. Combined with the talented and diverse performers, Half of Me is a valuable and effective play.

Half of Me will be performed by Future Stage Company at Generation Arts in October, and by various regional theatres in 2017 as a curtain raiser to Tamasha’s next national tour, Made in India.

Fabric @ New Wimbledon Studio

Performed at the New Wimbledon Studio, Abi Zakarian’s play Fabric aims to bring to light the devastating affects rape has on individuals and the way they are treated by those around them. This one-woman show powerfully portrays these harrowing experiences by looking at how society’s obsession with victim-blaming affects individuals.

Leah (Nancy Sullivan) is a 30 something struggling to come to terms with the damaged relationship between her and her friends, family and partner. She talks about the day they first met, the time he introduced her to his mother, who didn’t seem to approve of their relationship. As she tells her story, he is painted in a questionable light, from the way he speaks to her, to their wedding night. In the end, Leah recounts the traumatic night of her rape in a nightclub, and her attacker is someone known to her and her friends.

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Photo: Pamela Raith

Sullivan is brilliant as Leah, effortlessly keeping the audience engaged throughout the show. She draws listeners into her story through her enthusiasm and excitement of recounting her meeting her husband for the first time. The change from the fun-loving and confident Leah to the one looking back and recounting the night of the attack is distressing to watch, especially as Zakarian’s writing is so powerful and visceral. Sullivan performs this exceptionally with her touching and emotional physicality, bringing to the stage the agony of the chilling attack. With Tom O’Brien’s direction, the attack feels very real, taking over Leah’s body, and immersing the audience in her pain. During the middle of the play, the action does draw out slightly and it loses its energy and pace, but Sullivan manages to pick it up once again in the final part of the play.

Fabric draws attention to the way society blames victims for their own rape. As Leah looks back at her attack, forced to relive every moment when repeating it to authorities, to friends and family, it becomes clear that her intoxication on the night, her own sexual encounters, play a part in the way she is perceived by her friends. Those who know her attacker do not believe he is the type of person to commit such a disturbing crime, and Zakarian draws on his appearance and wealth to portray this. In light of the current Standford case, the play is poignant and necessary to highlight the injustices received by rape survivors, and is worth catching it while it is on tour. 

Fabric is currently on tour: The Hawth, Crawly on 20th July; Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury on 21st & 22nd July; Iron Belly, Edinburgh between 6th – 28th August.

Laughing Matter @ King’s Head Theatre

Written by Paul Lichtenstern (who also directs) and James Thomson (who also stars), Laughing Matter is a verbatim piece that focuses on understanding the death of a parent, and it is theatre company End of Moving Walkway’s first devised play. While at times the concepts explored can get slightly intense and hard to follow, the funny and very touching aspects of the show make it a great hour of theatre.

While working on a theatre project he was developing, Thomson was secretly recording day-to-day conversations between his own family. When his father passed away, these recordings were the only things Thomson had. These mundane interactions suddenly became significant to him. Using one of these fragments, Lichtenstern and Thomson attempt to find meaning in the world.

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Thomson’s performance is energetic and engaging at the beginning, and when speaking to the audience directly his sincerity is comforting. However, once he begins to repeatedly focus on colour perception, physics and the universe in order to gain a profound understanding of our place in the world, the story becomes very hard to follow. When he first appears on stage, he says he has come up with a list of three things that will help defend his choice of subject matter. Whether or not he actually lists these things at any point gets drowned in the lengthy chat about space and the number of stars and planets that exist in the universe. The points that the first part of the piece tries to are swallowed up in this dominating dense discourse, and it is consequently hard to follow and make sense of.

However, once Thomson’s father Simon (performed brilliantly by Keith Hill) joins him on stage, the interactions between the father and son are touching to watch. Their conversation highlights the ups and downs presented in all relationships, especially those between parents and children. James is short-tempered with his dad and even insulting at times. When the scene is played over and over again, he attempts to engage with his father in slightly different ways, aiming to gain a different perspective from his speech, trying to make the moment last. Thomson and Hill are brilliant on stage together, and their interactions are moving, which creates an emotional atmosphere in the space.

Lichtenstern and Thomson have created a piece of work that makes the audience consider their own relationships with their loved ones, while also questioning their existence in the universe. The subject matter is poignant, and even though some of science talk gets boring, the humour and warmth of the show makes it enjoyable and well worth a visit to the King’s Head Theatre.

Laughing Matter is at the King’s Head Theatre until 16th July.

The Doctor in Spite of Himself @ Drayton Arms Theatre

Translating French-language plays into English, international theatre company Exchange Theatre’s new show The Doctor in Spite of Himself is an adaptation of Molière’s rarely-performed farce. Presented as part of the Bastille Festival 2016, which includes a series of workshops and French performances, the play is performed in English and in French on alternate nights. While there was some great acting and comedic moments in this adaptation, Exchange Theatre’s show did not utilise the text perhaps as much as it could have, which created an uncomfortable piece of work.

The story is about Sganarelle (David Furlong), a drunken woodcutter who  abuses his wife Martine (Jacqueline Berces), and the revenge she seeks in order to teach him a lesson. When she overhears two men in need of a doctor to cure their employer’s daughter, Martine decides this would be a good opportunity to deliver her plan. She convinces the two that Sganarelle is a successful doctor, albeit an eccentric one, who will only cure patients once he has been physically beaten. The two men find Sganarelle in his woodshop and do as Martine instructs them, forcing him to see the sick Lucinde (Anita Adam Gabay) as a patient. However even without the medical degree, Sganarelle uses the gullibility of those around him and his gift of the gab to convince them he is a doctor. With a bit of luck and understanding, Lucinde is cured, and the play ends happily.

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Photo: Ulysse Beauvois

Furlong who directs and stars in the main role, is superb. He embodies  Molière’s Sganarelle perfectly and the writer’s comedy is expressed brilliantly through his performance. His transformation from drunkard to “sophisticated” doctor, who is easily bought off and charismatic towards the ladies, is a fun character to watch. Matt Mella’s Lucas, a servant in Lucinde’s household, is hilarious and his comic timing commendable. The interactions between Mella and Furlong were particularly great, as their high energy physical comedy plays a big role in the show.

While some of the cast do well to make parts of this play enjoyable, there are elements of it that bring down the energy created by the performers. At points, the set pieces seemed too difficult to change and seemed to be getting in the way. At other points, the costume pieces kept falling off the performers seemingly unintentionally, and props were awkwardly handled. It seems trivial to mention points like these, but when put together, it made it seem like those on stage felt very out of place and uncomfortable in their surroundings which was not pleasant to watch. What adds to this discomfort is the loud music that blares at different point throughout. While it adds to the scene in which the two men attack Sganarelle as it is comedic and fast-paced, at other times it is so overpowering that the actors have to scream to be heard over it, and yet their speech is still unclear.

The Doctor in Spite of Himself does include some brilliant casting and humorous action. However, the awkwardness of some scenes, and the discomfort created by some of the unpolished performances made Furlong’s adaptation just not a very enjoyable piece of theatre.

The Doctor in Spite of Himself is at Drayton Arms Theatre until 17th July.

 

Macbeth @ New Wimbledon Studio

Following on from their Titus Andronicus in October Last year, theatre company Arrows & Traps have now added a Macbeth adaptation to their Shakespeare canon. While  at times the action can become awkward and un-engaging, there are some very strong performances, interesting character developments, and scary horror elements throughout.

The play begins with a prophecy: Macbeth (David Paisley) and Banquo (Becky Black) come across three witches who predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then eventually the king of Scotland, and that Banquo will father kings. When Queen Duncan (Jean Apps) promotes Macbeth to Thane, he starts to believe in the prophecies. His wife Lady Macbeth (Cornelia Baumann) convinces him to kill the Queen in order to fulfil the second prediction. Once the deed is done, the Queen’s sons flee the country, leaving Macbeth to assume the throne. And once the second prophecy becomes true, his obsessions with the prophecies leads to bloodshed and his eventual downfall.

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Photo: Davor Tovarlaza at the Ocular Creative

Director Ross McGregor focuses on the supernatural in the opening of the production, and this theme continues throughout. The dead soldier in the beginning of the play is on display as the audience walk into the space, covered in a bloody sheet. It evokes Frankenstein’s monster, heightening the play’s horror features, and in fact the scene itself resembles the start of Rupert Goold’s film adaptation. McGregor does well in producing a horror atmosphere in the auditorium, especially during the scene with the apparitions, where a blood covered Banquo seems to appear out of nowhere. While Elle Banstead-Salim, Olivia Stott and Monique Williams give powerful performances as witches, their singing destroys the allusion of their supernatural appearance. The two songs d0not fit well into the action, and felt uncomfortable to watch, especially as the music overpowered the singing, making the lyrics unintelligible.

However the redeeming elements of the play are the fascinating character and casting choices, which opens up a new understanding of dynamics in the play. McGregor chooses to highlight the emotional toll Lady Macbeth’s dead child has on her. During her speech convincing Macbeth to commit the murder, her description of her child is evocative and powerful, but it doesn’t seem to impact Macbeth at all. Baumann presents a very strong Lady Macbeth, and her affectionate portrayal makes her breakdown at the end of the play all the more tragic. Hers was a perfect performance.

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Photo: Davor Tovarlaza at the Ocular Creative

Equally, McGregor’s choice to present a female Banquo brings to light unexplored relationships within the play. Black brilliantly portrays a young and energetic Banquo, which mirrors Lady Macbeth, but also contrasts her childlessness. The loss of their child does not appear to impact Macbeth until he witnesses Banquo and Fleance together- a strong mother figure with a son who is destined for greatness according to the prophecy. Therefore the murder of Queen Duncan, then Banquo, then Lady Macduff appears to be an attempt to kill all the mother figures in the play, a seemingly romantic gesture on Macbeth’s part in order to build his relationship with his wife again. But by this point, the tragedy of the loss of her child, alongside the guilt of the murders, leads to Lady Macbeth’s own death. Ultimately, McGregor re-imagines Macbeth as a ‘love story’ (his own words), albeit a tragic one.

It is true that there may be other, more engaging adaptations of Macbeth currently in London, with better production value. But McGregor’s character development and choice of including more female characters highlights unexplored layers of depth in Macbeth. For an interesting exploration of motherhood and a different relationship between the title character and his wife, Arrows & Traps’ Macbeth is worth the watch.

Macbeth is at New Wimbledon Studio until 9th July.

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.