Shorts Night @ CentrE17

CentrE17, Walthamstow’s new performance space, opened its doors in July 2017 and is currently in the midst of its inaugural season. This politically-charged festival of work entitled It’s the End of the World As We Know It, brings together comedy, theatre and film to explore current issues. Their Shorts Night puts together four short pieces of work covering the topics of farming, modern-day anxieties, suicide, female sexuality and power. With their relevant topics, each piece is relatable and sympathetic, while some are more engaging than others.

The first of the shorts is Legendairy by SpeakUp Theatre, which starts off as a seemingly innocent stand-up routine with Cassie the cow (Isabelle Kabban). The concept of a cow doing anecdotal comedy is hilarious, but as the story goes on, and the realities of Cassie and her friends’ lives are detailed, it becomes increasingly disturbing. Legendairy is a unique way to comment on the meat industry that is executed well by the company.

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Rosa Caines’ one-woman monologue Balloon is the second short of the night. A young, pregnant woman is talking to her unborn child about the current state of the world, trying to figure out the point in it all. While some very real subjects are discussed, like global warming, war, austerity, and technology, the surreal elements of the piece are jarring and feel futile within the tone of the short as a whole. It is well-performed by Caines’ though, who is funny, empathetic and enjoyable.

In the third short Over Soon, a young man is battling depression and contemplating suicide. Although Dom Luck’s performance is unanimated which consequently feels unengaging, his writing is beautifully poetic and full of powerfully evocative language.

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The final short, written by Eleanor Tindall, stands out the most. Before I Was a Bear is a story based on Greek mythology that details the reason a young woman has been turned into a bear. Callisto (Lucy Mangan) enjoys spending time with a married actor, but when the tabloids get wind of their “affair” his wife eventually finds out and turns Callisto into a great beast. Mangan’s performance is incredibly engaging and she has powerful storytelling abilities. She is instantly likeable from her first appearance on stage in a comically over-the-top bear costume. Although the story is funny, it’s more of a deep analysis of how women are treated in the media. Some see her as a temptress, while others label her a victim, but she is neither – completely content with the arrangement she’s had. With its interesting point of view, Before I Was a Bear is a short but sweet analysis of female sexuality and how it is perceived.

Overall Shorts Night was an enjoyable way to experience four new pieces of work exploring current and relevant topics. I look forward to seeing more work as part of this new season, and what else CentrE17 have to offer in the future.

CentrE17’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It season runs until 27th April.

Seven Husbands for Hürmüz @ Arcola Theatre

Part of the theatre’s Creative/Disruption 18 season, Arcola Ala Turka’s newest show Seven Husbands for Hürmüz is an energetic staging of Sadık Şendil’s classic play. Naz Yeni’s direction brings this farce to life with energy, and even though at times the action becomes muddled and overwhelming, the overall experience is fun and quite enjoyable.

Set at the end of the 19th Century in Istanbul, at a time when it was not unusual for men to have more than one wife, Hürmüz has managed to wed a total of six men, each unaware of one another’s existence. Her situation is pretty comfortable, and she is able to take advantage of their salaries, and the fact that many live outside of the city. But when Hürmüz falls madly in love with a doctor, her web of lies begins to untangle, triggering a series of fantastically ridiculous events.

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The start of the play isn’t very promising as it kicks off with a confusing play-within-a-play concept which is never revisited at the end. Some characters are mentioned but never appear again, and many of the performers rush through their lines, not waiting long enough for jokes to land. But once the actual story of Hürmüz gets going, the performers are in their element, and the cast of around 30 brings to life this show with great energy. With such a large cast, the small studio space at the Arcola Theatre feels claustrophobic at times, particularly when everyone is on stage at once. That being said, I do understand that in this style of Turkish theatre, the lively musical numbers work better with the whole team on stage – even though it can be overwhelming.

Within the ensemble, Ada Burke stands out in the title role with her great comic timing and an instantly likeable quality. She’s extremely dynamic on stage, whether she’s wooing a foolish husband or pretending to be a conservative, elderly uncle, she vivaciously brings to life Şendil’s bawdy language. The exaggerated Turkish male stereotypes are also hilarious to see, and it’s interesting to watch how Hürmüz manipulates each of them using their characteristics. Personal highlights include Özgür Boz’s perfectly timed slapstick moments as the Cotton Fluffer, and Şükrü Demir as the simple-minded Memo.

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With the music playing a big part in the piece, it is a shame that at times the singing feels awkward to watch. Although almost every scene is concluded with a song, there seems to be a disconnect between the musicians on stage and the actors. Song cues were missed, sometimes notes were off-key, and there was even a point where an actor side-eyed the musicians, making these mistakes very obvious. The most disappointing of all was the bağlama (stringed musical instrument) that remained centre stage throughout the play – it was only played twice and it would have been great to hear more.

The moments of confusion at the beginning of the show and the frustrating musical direction can be forgiven though, purely because of the amount of fun the company are having on stage, which is infectious. For that reason, Arcola Ala Turka’s staging of Seven Husbands for Hürmüz is an enjoyable show,that has hilarious moments of comedy, and displays some genuinely good acting.

 

Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy @ The Vaults

Wound Up Theatre’s Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy is a funny and dark show about an English soldier who is kept captive by an ISIS fighter. The timely piece explores the experiences of young people in modern Britain and how they are affected by economics, politics, religion, and just being young. With laugh-out-loud comedy and some very distressing truths, the show is a great watch and an engaging way to look at themes around disenfranchisement and radicalisation.

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The play opens with a soldier tied up to a pole in the middle of an imagined cell. In walks in a black-clad young man, who is carrying a bottle of water and a small bread roll. The tied up man is Dean (Matthew Greenhough), the other man is an ISIS fighter who Dean calls Danny (Elliot Liburd), and it quickly becomes clear that Danny’s purpose is to kill Dean. The two obviously have different beliefs, but as they spend time together, it seems they have more in common than not. Their surroundings, however, dictate their story, and there really only is one way for that to go.

Written by Greenhough, who also performs as Dean, the show truly is a tragicomedy. The humour is weaved well into the text, and with each burst of humour, expertly performed by the duo on stage, there is equally an impactful element of harrowing truth. Greenhough’s Dean is warm and funny, and opposite him, Liburd’s Danny is a surprisingly likeable ISIS soldier. Jonny Kelly’s direction allows the duo to make the most of the open space in The Vaults, which is actually a perfect setting for the performance.

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The humour of the piece derives from the trivial and relatively ‘normal’ discussions the two have with each other – about things like where they used to work as teenagers, ex-girlfriends, Northerners vs Londoners. They warm up to each other, and in different circumstances, it even appears like the two would be friends. But then in a split second Dean says the wrong thing, or Danny perceives a threat, and the mood suddenly changes to fear and terror. It’s this juxtaposition that is heartbreaking about the piece, and truly reflects the rising social tensions in British society.

The ending does go on for longer than it should, and because of this, it feels repetitive, but this is just a small detail that can be overlooked. The hilarious and equally heartbreaking Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy is a very well written and performed piece that tackles contemporary issues in a clever and brave way.

Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy is at The Vaults until 4th March. 

Napoleon Disrobed @ Arcola Theatre

Based on Simon Leys’ novella The Death of Napoleon, Told By An Idiot’s new show Napoleon Disrobed is a comical and absurd adaptation that imagines the life of Napoleon leading up to his death. With mistaken identity, contemporary gags and delightfully clumsy physicality, the performance brings to life a Leys’ story in an energetic, fun and funny way.

The banished Napoleon (Paul Hunter) is escaping St. Helena disguised as a cabin hand named Eugène Lenormand, leaving the man behind in his place. He is on his way back to Europe with the help of a secret organisation who he believes will help him regain his power as Emperor. In a series of funny events and misunderstanding, he ends up in Paris, where he meets a widower who takes him in. The unlikely pair become close, but when Eugene dies in St. Helena, Napoleon struggles to keep his real identity a secret and is devastated by everyone’s reaction.

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The story has been very well adapted for the stage, with witty language that’s amplified by the physical comedy, and an absurd chain of events. The comedy is interpreted and performed well by Hunter, who is hilarious both as Napoleon and as the various other characters he takes on – a ridiculous caricature of Jeremy Paxman with a wig that resembles anyone but him was a particular highlight. Opposite him, Ayesha Antoine’s characterisation is on point, and she moves from one character to another seamlessly, which is glorious to watch. Her energy fills up the whole room. The two have a great chemistry together on stage, and I would happily watch them again.

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Kathryn Hunter’s direction allows the performers to be playful with the audience, encouraging viewers to interact with them and the show, which is fun to be a part of. Michael Vale’s set design is imaginative and allows the actors to be very active. A big, raised wooden platform in the centre of the space serves as a versatile stage, changing from a television studio to a ship to a Eurostar carriage. The way the performers use this set piece heightens their physicality and the humour of the show. It’s just extremely entertaining, especially during the scene on the ship – it made me want to give it a go myself.

Overall the humour in Napoleon Disrobed is clever, witty and completely absurd. With great writing and exceptional performances from both Antoine and Hunter, the show is a hilarious staging of Leys’ novella.

Napoleon Disrobed is at the Arcola Theatre until 10th March.

The B*easts @ Bush Theatre

The Bush Theatre’s new season has started off with a blast – Javaad Alipoor’s The Believers Are But Brothers was a brilliant and totally unique piece, and now their current show The B*easts is a compelling exploration of modern-day parenting and the sexualisation of children. Written and brilliantly performed by Monica Dolan, it is engaging and uncomfortably relevant to contemporary culture.

Therapist Tessa (Dolan) is working on a case about Karen, a mother who allowed her daughter Leila to have breast implants at aged 8. Tessa explains that the girl showed an interest in wanting breasts from 3 years old, constantly clutching at her mum’s fashion magazines, pointing at the women. As Leila grew up, her wish grew stronger, and finally, her mum decided to give her daughter what she wanted. When people found out, Leila was taken into care and her mother was arrested. Now it’s up to Tessa to asses Karen, but trying to figure out who is to blame for the sequence of events is not very black and white.

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Photo: Alan Harris

The story is captivating, and with every dark new detail, you yearn for more, which Dolan delivers perfectly. Her performance is mesmerising, keeping the audience hooked on her every word. James Button’s design keeps her at the centre of the stage, the perfect position for the storyteller to maintain attention easily throughout the monologue, which feels completely effortless for Dolan.

There is no clear conclusion in the end, just the disturbing fact that even though the details in Dolan’s story are very extreme and heightened, we are heading towards a society where the extreme is becoming normal. The B*easts makes you question society’s obsession with policing women’s bodies, overly sexualising women, and how this actually affects children and young people. With a fantastic story full of sinister truths and dark humour, and an exceptional performance from Dolan, The B*easts is unmissable.

The B*easts is at the Bush Theatre until 3rd March.

Untold Stories @ Arcola Theatre

Part of the SLAM season at the Arcola Theatre, Untold Stories is a collection of new short plays featuring work from new and established artists. Including subjects from race to old age to suicide, each of the seven stories brings something different to the stage, but some stand out more than others.

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Bakersfield | Photo: Nathalie St Clair

One of those is Bakersfield, a coming of age story set in 1950s Memphis about eighteen-year-old Tommy who wants to play pro baseball, but whose father thinks the army is better suited for him. Written and directed by Chris Udoh and starring Kingsley Amadi as Tommy, it tackles racism, friendship and the idea of duty. Udoh is a brilliant storyteller, who has managed to create complicated characters and weave them into an engrossing play. Amadi’s performance is commendable, bringing to life the text with superb energy, completely engaging the audience. I didn’t want it to end.

Emma Zadow’s A Tune of Two Muses is a dialogue between Lizzie Siddal (Amy Alan) and Jane Morris (Rachel August), the wives of Dante Rossetti and William Morris respectively. Much is speculated about the relationship between the two women, so Zadow’s idea to highlight the artists themselves, is a creative one. While both Alan and August perform the two women well, it’s Lysanne Van Overbeek’s direction that makes the piece feel flat. The energy stays on one level throughout, so after the first few minutes, it’s easy to get distracted and lose interest in an otherwise interesting concept.

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London-Damascus | Photo: Laura Henry

It’s also worth mentioning London-Damascus – another stand-out short of the collection. Written and directed by Nick Moyles, the story follows an internet relationship that crosses two countries. Syrian Ahmed (Reece Matthews) and Englishman Adam (Freddie Wintrip) meet online and fall in love. Moyles’ story is well written, full of humour and emotion, with solid performances by both Matthews and Wintrip. While the ending feels like it goes on for a bit longer than necessary, it doesn’t detract from the strength of the story. The tragic conclusion is heartbreaking.

Untold Stories contains some well-formed and presented short plays, as well as some that have compelling subjects that may need work in their execution. Although there are stories that are more engaging than others, overall as a collective, they are funny, touching and complicated pieces of work that entertain and engage an audience.

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.

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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Photo: Nobby Clark

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.