Tumble Tuck @ King’s Head Theatre

After a well-received run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Sarah Milton’s solo show Tumble Tuck is back in London, headlining the King’s Head Theatre’s Who Runs The World? season. Full of humour, wit, and some very touching moments, it’s the perfect addition to this collection of work celebrating female playwrights.

Daisy’s been asked by a semi-professional swimming team to join them for a competition. As she waits to jump in the pool for the relay, she wonders how she got there. She’s not slender and smooth like Kath or Sophie. Her legs jiggle, and does she really need to shave them? When she takes the plunge and they actually win third place, Daisy has a moment of peace. But when her best friend Alice brings her some unwelcome news, Daisy anxiety kicks in and fearful emotions from her past come flooding back to her.

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The comedy is perfectly presented and the topic of mental health and body image is weaved in seamlessly, so Milton is able to address these darker themes with care and dignity. While Daisy’s story is in the centre of the piece, every other character is solidly crafted. They’re each unique, and Milton captures this from every mannerism they portray to their personalities. Each relationship is extremely well-thought-out too. The friendship between Daisy and best friend Alice holds a mirror up to all close relationships between girlfriends – they’re so close, people even mistake them for sisters. The relationship is so real, which is what makes it so heartbreaking when Alice carries out the ultimate betrayal.

Daisy’s story is very relatable which is what makes Tumble Tuck such an enjoyable performance. While things have happened to Daisy, Milton makes sure that she is not defined by her past. Yes, she’s had a problematic relationship with her body, and with those around her, but it’s important that she’s found a way to deal with those things and use them to her strength. It’s through this honest and vulnerable portrayal that makes Daisy instantly likeable – and makes Milton’s performance such a success.

At times it’s funny, and at other times it’s heartbreaking – the show is perfectly balanced which is what makes Milton’s writing a triumph. She’s created a clever and engaging show that’s a perfect addition to this King’s Head Theatre season, and an immensely enjoyable watch.

Tumble Tuck is at the King’s Head Theatre until 12th May.

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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.

 

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 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.

Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ @ Latvian House

Bringing to life some of Eugène Ionesco’s characters, and even himself, Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ is a French and English celebration of the absurdist playwright and his work, directed by Marianne Badrichani. The show has some great portrayals, and although it could have included more ‘immersive’ elements, its inviting atmosphere elevates the whole experience.

Before you are guided through to the dinner party, the butler (Jorge Laguardia) hands over the evening’s menu to examine – which gives an idea of which Ionesco works to expect. Once seated at the long table in the centre of the dining room, Mr and Mrs Smith (Sean Rees and Lucy Russell) join the party. Their guests Mr and Mrs Martin (David Mildon and Edith Vernes) arrive, although late and apparently convinced they are complete strangers, and the full hilarity of the absurdist characters ensues.

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The whole event is quite pleasant. The ensembles give admirable performances of classic Ionesco, with snippets from The Bald Soprano and The Lesson. Russell is hilariously British as Mrs Smith, deliver the intricate dialogue delightfully. Laguardia has an immense likability that leaves a lasting impression, even though he is not as strong as the other performers. His charm is present from the start as he ushers guests in, through to his brilliantly boring anecdote as the Captain of the Fire Brigade later on in the performance.

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The most enjoyable scenes are those where Rees, playing Ionesco, is interviewed. Though the actors stand around the table firing questions in French (and English) as though in a press conference, these scenes feel quite intimate, giving insight into the playwright’s life – his thought-process, his fears, his influences.

The set and site-specific aspect of the piece is very enjoyable, the interior of the venue befitting the dinner scene. But with such a great space and set, if feels as though there should be more immersive parts to the play, and it’s disappointing to find out there isn’t. That’s not to say this isn’t an enjoyable experience. As a piece of absurdist theatre, Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ is a brilliantly performed and directed combination of all the best bits of Ionesco you can fit into just over an hour, with a set-up that activates the senses.

Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ is at Latvian House until 1st April.

2 Become 1 @ King’s Head Theatre

Kerri Thomason and Natasha Granger’s 2 Become 1 is an upbeat musical exploring female friendship and the evolution of dating, set to a 90s soundtrack. Bursting with nostalgia and girl power, the play perfectly captures the pop-culture of the era, and the talented cast present some truly hilarious renditions of these classic songs.

Jess (Granger) has just been dumped by her boyfriend, and to stop her from wallowing in self-pity, her friends decide to take her on a night out. From speed dating, to using Cosmo tips to impress men, to singing in the ladies loos, the girls do their best to cheer up Jess’ broken heart. But in the end, after a quick stop at the chippy, Jess realises she doesn’t need a man when she is surrounded by girl power.

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Photo: Liam Prior

The chemistry of the cast is exquisite on stage and it genuinely feels like these women have been friends for a long time. Granger captures the distressed dumpee’s character perfectly, and her physical comedy is brilliant. The stand-out performer of the piece is Jessica Brady, who plays the obsessive and fickle-hearted Amanda. Her powerful voice is the perfect fit for Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You,’ and along with the audience participation, this is the highlight of the piece.

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Photo: Liam Prior

While presenting a female-centric view through their characters, Thomason and Granger split the action with real-life recordings of men and their opinions on dating. Contrasting the 90s action with the contemporary recordings highlights just how much dating has changed in such a short period of time, especially with the internet. We see the character Molly (played by Thomason) muse about this at the end of their girls night out, commenting on just how ridiculous it would be to form opinions of people based just on the way they look.

Thomason and Granger have created a short and energetic piece, full of laughs and great throwbacks. Though their is an overarching theme about modern-day dating practices and how unorthodox they are when compared to 20 years ago, this is a very light-hearted show. With just the right amount of cheesiness, 2 Become 1 is a delight, and a great alternative Christmas treat.

2 Become 1 is at the King’s Head Theatre until 7th January.

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.