Mary’s Babies @ Jermyn Street Theatre

It’s always an interesting experience going to a venue I’ve not been before to watch a show. I tend to keep my mind open, and my visit to the Jermyn Street Theatre was no exception. Made up of just a handful of rows, this small venue is an intimate space, one that gives Maud Dromgoole’s play the feeling that you’re sitting in on private conversations too personal to share otherwise. Inspired by the true story of Mary Barton and her husband Bertold Weisner, Mary’s Babies is a two-hander following the stories of the people born as a result of artificial insemination through the couple’s clinic. Even though at times the story is hard to follow, and some parts of the piece feel random, the play is an interesting way to imagine how such an unprecedented story could be told.

Mary’s Babies - Maud Dromgoole - Jermyn Street Theatre - 20th March 2019Director - Tatty Hennessy
Designer - Anna Reid
Lighting Designer - Jai Morjaria

Cast - Emma Fielding and Katy Stephens

Photo: Robert Workman

Keiran has been asked to give a eulogy at his mother’s funeral but explains why he doesn’t think he is the right person to do so. He’s just found out she’s not his biological mother, and that he was IVF conceived. After some research, he discovers the IVF clinic used a small pool of men as donors, and consequently, he has an estimated thousand half brothers and sisters. He goes on to search, find and meet a number of his siblings, or “sibs” whether they want to know about him or not.

Performers Emily Fielding and Katy Stephens (Keiran) play over a dozen characters each, and they keep the narrative moving well. Their attention to detail when it comes to the characterisation of each person they play is superb, and even the subtle differences in posture and expression are satisfying to watch. At first it does take a bit of time to get used to the different characters, but Anna Reid’s sleek design helps with this. The modern set resembles a bare living room, with a back wall full of frames with names written boldly in them.  Every time a character appears on stage, their name frame lights up behind them, making it easy to keep track of the action.

Mary's Babies - Jermyn Street Theatre - Emma Fielding - photo credit - Robert Workman.jpg

Photo: Robert Workman

While the core characters are necessary to further the action, there are some very random additions to the plot that feel out of place. A ventriloquist and his dummy turn up at one point, as well as a pair of posh boys trying to feed chocolate buttons to chickens for them to lay chocolate eggs. The purpose of these scenes seem to be to add humour to the piece, but they just come across as jarring within the larger story.

Although there are random moments of comedy Dromgoole has placed throughout the text that don’t often land, the performers do well in presenting each of the unique characters in a sympathetic way. Overall the story of Mary’s Babies itself is incredibly fascinating, which is where the play’s strengths lie.

Mary’s Babies is at Jermyn Street Theatre until 13th April.

Advertisements

Victoria’s Knickers @ Soho Theatre

Continuing the National Youth Theatre REP Company’s season at Soho Theatre, Victoria’s Knickers is an ensemble piece based on the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, and the legend of Edward Jones – a teenager who broke into Buckingham palace repeatedly between 1837-1840. Written by NYT alumnus Josh Azouz, the play is witty, hilarious and terrifically performed by the talented young cast.

Victoria (Alice Vilanculo) is about to be crowned queen and marry her cousin Albert (Oseloka Obi). But when a young man called Ed (Jamie Ankrah) breaks into the palace and she catches him sitting on her throne, his wit and boldness charms her. Victoria soon begins an affair with Ed, even making plans to move to Blackpool. When Ed is caught on the palace grounds he is imprisoned, and it’s up to Victoria to save her love.

victorias-knickers-0211b.jpg

Photo: Helen Murray

Ankrah’s performance is a bit rough around the edges but his energy is outstanding. As soon as he appears on stage the whole auditorium is rooting for him. He takes time to make cheeky glances at the audience, making him great to watch as this lovable character. Opposite him, in the title role, the fiery Vilanculo is full of sass, a stunning voice, and brilliant comic timing – she is an absolute joy to watch. As a group, the cast is completely in sync with one another and their rendition of Blackstreet’s No Diggity is a particular highlight. Led by Obi’s impressive vocals the whole team gets involved and has fun with it, prompting cheering and roars of laughter from the audience.

Azouz has taken the infamous story of The Boy Jones and filled in the blanks with outrageous and fantastic ideas. Using slang to really root the story in London, and with a mixture of original music and well-known hip-hop, Victoria’s Knickers is a boisterous piece performed by a lively cast.

Victoria’s Knickers is at Soho Theatre until 10th November.

Consensual @ Soho Theatre

The National Youth Theatre REP Company’s new season of work kicks off with a vital story exploring issues of sex and consent. Written by Evan Placey, Consensual centers around a teacher whose past involvement with a 15-year-old student resurfaces when he turns up with questions for her. Even though the direction feels awkward at times, the strong ensemble brings to life Placey’s play amicably, with some terrific stand out performances dotted throughout.

Diane (Marilyn Nnadebe) is in charge of her school’s Healthy Relationships curriculum, teaching her students about consent. But when Freddie (Fred Hughes-Stanton) turns up claiming she groomed him when he was fifteen, she is forced to look back at the night they spent together seven years ago. While Diane struggles to make sense of what happened, teacher Mary (Laurie Ogden) is getting closer to her student Georgia (Alice Vilanculo), which becomes extremely problematic when Georgia finds herself in a tough situation with her boyfriend.

NYT-REP-Company-in-Consensual-at-the-Soho-Theatre.-Credit-Helen-Murray-2.jpg

Photo: Helen Murray

Nnadebe’s performance as Diane is occasionally excessive, but she is a strong lead who brings to life the character with passion and good comic timing. Along with Hughes-Stanton’s childish yet vehement Freddie, the subject matter is tackled head-on and unashamedly. Their interactions can be hard to watch, in particular in the second half of the play when they get intimate, but this just adds to the undiscerning situation these characters have found themselves in.

The ensemble’s high energy in the classroom scenes is amusing, but they often can be overly animated which soon begins to feel garish and cringe-worthy, especially during scene changes where they sing and rap. While Pia Furtado’s direction appears clumsy in these scenes, the intimacy she creates in others is delightful and allows the performers to stand out.  In particular, when Vilanculo’s self-assured yet vulnerable Georgia shares a scene with Ogden’s timid but attentive teacher Mary, it’s both hilarious and moving. The pair has a great connection on stage.

NYT-REP-Company-in-Consensual-at-the-Soho-Theatre.-Credit-Helen-Murray-3.jpg

Photo: Helen Murray

As the play makes clear, conversations about sex and consent are very relevant to young people and should be a vital part of the national curriculum. Even though some points about healthy relationships are missed because of the quick pace of the piece, the overall performance is effective and enjoyable. The cast works well together and it’s clear they’re having fun on stage, which is always a joy to experience.

Consensual is at Soho Theatre until 9th November.

Hamilton (Lewis) @ King’s Head Theatre

With everyone being obsessed with Lin Manuel Miranda’s extremely successful Hamilton: An American Musical, parodies were inevitable. When it was announced that Hamilton would be appearing in the West End, someone on Twitter was perplexed as to why a musical about Lewis Hamilton was being made. Taking this idea and running with it, Fiona English and David Eaton have created a new musical based on the Formula 1 driver. Fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe, Hamilton (Lewis) is an awfully amazing hour of ridiculous songs, funny gags and some stunning vocals.

Hamilton (Lewis) (c) _otherrichard (7).jpg

Photo: The Other Richard

Born and raised in Stevenage, Lewis Hamilton (Letitia Hector) has always dreamed of driving fast cars. With McLaren boss Ron Dennis (Jamie Barwood) mentoring him, he gets the title of F1 champion. But with rival Fernando Alonso’s (Louis Mackrodt) backing from sponsors, will Hamilton be able to maintain his place at the top? And when Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger (Liberty Buckland) takes a fancy to him, Hamilton sees his opportunity to be the man he has always wanted to be, and rise up.

As you would expect from a successful musical parody, it’s completely over the top, with playful lyrics, a wink to the audience, and a cast who look like they’re genuinely having a great time on stage. Breaking the fourth wall throughout heightens the shared experience of this show, and it’s obvious the audience loves being in on the joke. There is a chuckle whenever a Hamilton song reference is made, which, as expected, is constantly.

Hamilton (Lewis) (c) _otherrichard (3).jpg

Photo: The Other Richard

Hector’s Hamilton is strong and likable, with great comic timing and charisma. It’s during her duets with Buckland that both performers thrive, their voices blending perfectly together, showcasing Eaton’s satisfying music and lyrics. Watch out for Buckland’s number with the rest of The Pussycat Dolls – performed hilariously by Barwood and Mackrodt –  you will not be able to look away.

If you are a die-hard fan of Lewis Hamilton you will likely find the show offensive, but that’s ok because you’re not really the target audience. If you are a fan of Hamilton, whether or not you have seen it or just obsessively listen to the soundtrack, you will love this show. It’s silly, fun, hammy, and over within the hour – what’s not to like?

Hamilton (Lewis) is at the King’s Head Theatre until 22nd September.

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.

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.

Food Bank As It Is @ CentrE17

Part of CentrE17’s inaugural season It’s the End of the World As We Know It, Food Bank As It Is is a verbatim piece based on the experiences of food bank manager Tara Osman. The play aims to raise awareness of the poverty faced by people in the UK today and the current ill-equipped benefit system that appears to be failing, forcing people to use food banks. The show is full of upsetting truths and shocking statistics, and with the post-show debate that encourages a dialogue, it is an important addition to this uncomfortable discussion.

Before the show begins, Osman makes a quick announcement to explain that the stories reflected on stage are real. For her, the piece is a way to challenge the system until something is done about it. As the play goes on, we are introduced to many characters. From a single mum who has run out of hope, to a stroke survivor who is forced to use the food bank, to a young man who hasn’t eaten for days because of a sanction on his benefits – a genuinely heartfelt performance from Daniel Kelly. In the post-show discussion after, it’s evident that half of the viewers are shocked by what they have seen, but for the other half, it’s actually more of a reiteration of things they already know.

18056103_295034167586885_1545473699075604855_o.jpg

Suzy Jacobsen portrayal’s of Osman is sympathetic, and with such a heavy theme, it’s nice to see her bring a touch of humour to the role too. It’s clear that Osman is someone who goes above and beyond what is required of her when interacting with those who come to the food bank. From the chat after, it’s encouraging to hear her, and many others in the audience, say that most individuals who do work for places like food banks, as well as local authorities and jobcentres, do try to help as best they can, but that the flaw lies in the system as a whole. Osman explores this more specifically in the form of a dream sequence, where the performers present the Milgrem experiment – the idea that people will always follow orders from authority figures, even if it goes against their conscience. While this is an interesting way to examine the welfare system, the sequence feels clumsy and without prior knowledge of the experiment, this section becomes confusing. Once it was explained in the post-show discussion, however, it made more sense.

Food Bank As It Is is not just a way for Osman to share these stories, but more an engaging way to talk about a topic that affects all of society. The company has a five-point manifesto that they believe can help create change, and are touring the show to spread the word, and even performed it at Westminster. The cast is incredibly engaging, and there is an especially exceptional performance from Lawrence O’Connor, which I won’t spoil. Even though the piece has deeply upsetting stories and puts harsh realities to the forefront,  in the end, you leave feeling positive and determined to help to create change.