Always Right There @ GBS Theatre

Part of the RADA Festival, which aims to bring together RADA graduates and theatre-makers to create performances, installations, and a series of discussions, Always Right There is a topical addition to this collection. Written by Natalia Rossetti, the play looks at the way in which women respond to instances of sexual harassment, especially things society has considered not severe enough to report. Although the subject matter is heavy, it is a humorous and enjoyable piece that looks at serious issues in a dignified and thought-provoking way.

Two friends are hanging out at their small flat in London. They discuss online dating, how expensive avocados are, the unattainable perfection of Instagram and beauty standards, with occasional thoughts about suicide and paedophilia. In between these discussions, the action cuts to an intensive spin class full of women, led by an exhaustingly energetic instructor. They each take it in turns to talk about past experiences of sexual harassment, abuse, and inappropriate behaviour. Each one has an uncomfortable story to share, some more than one. They have been tolerating these moments throughout their lives, etching them into memory, but never letting them come to the surface.

ART production shot

The performances from the ensemble are strong, in particular, Lucy Dobson and Hannah Powell stand out as the two flatmates. They perfectly embody the middle-class millennial lifestyle, presenting Rossetti’s witty writing with great comedic timing. Using these bursts of dialogue to break up the monologues delivered by the women in the spin class allows the pace to flow well. Even though the actors only tell short, single anecdotes, they bring to life Rossetti’s vivid language superbly. Christianna Mason’s design is dynamic, and the perfect backdrop to Samara Gannon’s energetic direction.

Most plays that include themes of sexual harassment usually centre around experiences like rape and physical sexual assault. These are obviously horrific things to encounter but are not the only ways women can be a victim of harassment. This is what makes Rossetti’s piece unique, in that the stories and experiences described are things that all women identify with in some way. Always Right There is a powerful piece that adds to this discussion, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The play is moving, at times upsetting, but also funny and completely relatable – you get the sense while you’re watching it that there is a shared feeling in the room of everyone knowing exactly how each character sitting on those exercise bikes feels.

Always Right There is at GBS Theatre until 7th July.

Advertisements

Fox Hunting @ The Coutyard Theatre

With knife crime rising in London, theatre company Elah Productions’ new play Fox Hunting is a timely piece that tackles this subject. Based on interviews with those directly affected by knife crime, the story puts five young men from London its centre, delving into each of their backgrounds to look at how they have found themselves amongst the violence. Full of thought-provoking dialogue and humour, the show is a good addition to the discussion surrounding knife crime in the capital.

A group of young men have congregated at a funeral. They’re strangers to each other, but it soon transpires that they’re all from South London. While telling a very animated story, one of them mentions foxes and how much he hates them, going as far as to suggest fox hunting should never have been banned. Another enquires as to why – “they’re just innocent animals” – which begins a debate about what innocence means, leading to each individual to tell the audience their story.

457A0083edited.jpg

What makes the play stand out is writer and performer David Alade’s choice to give a voice to perpetrators as well as victims. It’s easy to dismiss individuals and make assumptions when you hear about yet another stabbing that has occurred in the capital, but Alade’s text sheds a light on the fact that it’s not always as black and white as it might appear. One heartbreaking moment comes at the beginning of the piece when the character Terrel, effortlessly performed by Chris J Gordon’s, receives praise from his brother after stabbing someone. He is remorseful for his actions, but can finally be accepted by his brother as someone he shouldn’t be ashamed of. These conflicting and complex emotions are handled superbly by the ensemble, making the play engaging and each character sympathetic.

While the subject is a serious one, there are elements of comedy in the piece, which brings out some great performances from the cast. Alade as the police officer caricature is a personal highlight – completely over-the-top but an absolute joy to watch. At the same time, his performance as Joshua, a 17-year old boy murdered because of a case of mistaken identity, is heartbreaking. Although the show is funny, the humour is used as a device to add sympathy to the characters, and not necessarily to mock them.

There are times when the action does feel juvenile and awkward, particularly during moments when everyone performs in unison. But this is easy to look past because the show is entertaining as a whole. With knife violence currently being such a normality for young people from London, Fox Hunting is an honest, real-life look at its effects. Even if though it is upsetting to watch at points, the play is a valuable source for larger conversations.

Fox Hunting is at The Courtyard Theatre until 19th May.

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.

117216.jpg

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.

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.

shorts1.jpg

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.

shorts2 (1).jpg

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.

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.

IMG_6338.jpg

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.

IMG_6313.jpg

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. 

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.

MG_7820-01-cropped-warmer-brighter-e1511265711794-2000x1697.jpg

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.

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.
©helenmurray-Of-Kith-Kin-by-Chris-Thompson-directed-by-Robert-Hastie-Bush-Theatre-142-2000x1333.jpg

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.

©helenmurray-Of-Kith-Kin-by-Chris-Thompson-directed-by-Robert-Hastie-Bush-Theatre-440-2000x1333.jpg

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.