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.


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.


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.


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 | 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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

©NOBBY CLARK +44(0)7941-515770 +44(0)20-7274-2105
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?


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.


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.