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

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.

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.

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.

DSCN1444.JPG

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.

DSCN1552.JPG

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.

 

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.