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. 

Acorn @ The Courtyard Theatre

In this hour long dark comedy, Maud Dromgoole displaces the mythical stories of Persephone and Eurydice into the present, using these characters to explore the roles of women in modern society. Even though it starts off slowly, the striking images that appear throughout Acorn allows the play to pick up momentum, making it an enjoyable piece.

The play follows Eurydice as she prepares for her wedding day, excited to spend the rest of her life with her new husband. At the same time, Persephone, a Doctor, goes from patient to patient, trying to improve her bedside manner, which she is told she lacks. It seems as though these two women are worlds apart, but slowly their stories begin to intertwine, and when a snake-bite brings the two together, death becomes their shared destiny.

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The performance is hard to follow at first, even though Deli Segal as Persephone does her best in delivering the beginning monologue. But once the actors get into their stride, Dromgoole’s writing falls into place. Segal portrays the comedic elements of her character with strength, delivering her sarcasm brilliantly. Equally Lucy Pickles performs Eurydice’s humour with style, and it’s a joy to watch the two interact. Tatty Hennessy’s direction is fluid, which makes even the hard to understand scenes visually pleasing to watch. Additionally Tom Pearson’s projections combined with Matthew Strachan’s original score adds a sinister layer to the play, emphasising its ancient Greek influences.

In Greek mythology Persephone is the queen of the underworld, and the fact that she is presented as a doctor in the play is an unusual approach to the character, but a welcome one that challenges the concept of death. Dromgoole successfully manages to adapt the two women into a setting that makes them relatable, creating a very satsifying piece. Although it can be easy to lose track at times, the energy and imagery created by the performers makes Acorn worth your time.

Acorn is at The Courtyard Theatre until 29th October.

Girls Night Out @ theSpace@Jury’s Inn, Edinburgh Fringe

A twenty-something young woman is preparing for a Saturday night out with the girls. However as she tries to get ready, she is constantly interrupted by her friends and members of her family. Eme Essien’s hour of brilliant comedy is full of hilariously relatable things women face when getting ready for nights out. By combining sound recordings with her performance, Essien brings to life different characters superbly, like Darnell – the guy you give your number to but instantly regret when he actually calls. Girls Night Out is a cleverly written and well performed one-woman show that demonstrates the realities that women face in their day-to-day lives.

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The sound recordings are masterfully weaved into the performance which allows Essien to skillfully speak to each character in an organic way. In particular her aunt from Nigeria is the one who stands out the most. Their conversation over Skype is an amusingly accurate sequence full of perfectly timed comedic miscommunication. While the show is funny and energetic, it also includes some home truths that affect woman. Essien looks at how independence is construed by different people and how aspirations are sometimes altered because of circumstance. She successfully introduces these ideas into the show in a way that makes them feel natural and familiar, which is instantly engaging. The show authentically presents the battles women are faced with and the expectations society has of them. Essien’s attitude is inspiring, and her hilarious performance makes Girls Night Out an impressive piece that is well worth a watch.

Girls Night Out is at theSpace@Jury’s Inn until 27th August. 

Rainbow Class @ Assembly Hall, Edinburgh Fringe

Drawing on her own experiences as a teacher in an inner-city school, Vivienne Acheampong fuses character comedy with audience participation to bring to life a day at Tiddlesworth Primary School. A series of hilarious and boisterous characters are crammed into the 60 minutes of Rainbow Class, from the outrageously politically incorrect lunchtime supervisor Sheila, to overly confident head cook Eric Reginald Wilson.

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Acheampong’s storytelling abilities are exceptional. Each of the characters is vastly different from one another, and she embodies them completely. In particular, it is the fearless Mrs Oluwofobi, who is outraged that she cannot take her son on holiday without incurring a fine, who is the most entertaining. Acheampong perfectly captures the character’s expressions and accent, defining her mannerisms with precision. While all schools have some “troubled” children, like Ty-Quan, the hyper-animated young boy who always finds himself in trouble, they also have quiet ones too, who would rather spend time with their teachers. So alongside the plentiful humorous characters,  Acheampong doesn’t hesitate to include a very sobering one to the show in the form of a young girl called Gillie-Anne, who spends her lunch time with the dinner ladies, and then goes home to look after her mum.

The versatility of Acheampong characters is what makes this performance so entertaining. Her infectious energy is doubled when the audience finds themselves in a music lesson with the new supply teacher, a very skilled recorder player. Be prepared to have fun and get involved in this hour of brilliant story-telling.

Rainbow Class is at the Assembly Hall (Baille Room) until 28th August.