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.

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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.

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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. 

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Miss Nightingale @ The Vaults

Set in 1942 London, Miss Nightingale is a saucy musical that chronicles a cabaret singer’s rise to fame, to the backdrop of the Blitz. Full of spectacular numbers and excellent performances, the show is hilarious and ridiculously fun, while also detailing quite a touching storyline.

In the middle of war-torn London, Sir Frank (Nicholas Coutu-Langmead), the wealthy owner of a cabaret club is looking for a new act to be a regular on his stage. Enter Maggie (Tamar Broadbent) – a nurse with a great voice and stage presence, and George (Conor O’Kane), a Jewish composer. Together the trio set out to bring entertainment to the London nightlife. But when Frank and George fall in love, Maggie’s ex Tom (Niall Kerrigan) does all he can to exploit the couple’s secret at a time when society forces them to hide it.

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Photo: Robert Workman

Matthew Bugg has created an excellent piece of musical theatre. The moving love story and World War Two setting add emotion to the piece, which is balanced by the upbeat songs full of raunchy innuendos, creating an uplifting atmosphere. The ensemble work well together on stage, and as the whole cast is made up of actor-musicians, their talent is endless. Broadbent is a delight as the title character, perfectly performing each bawdy number with energy and spot-on comic timing. Coutu-Langmead and O’Kane capture Frank and George’s love completely, presenting their relationship with affection. Frank’s conflicting emotions are pushed to the surface by Coutu-Langmead’s passionate performance, while O’Kane presentation of George’s witty language is charming.

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Photo: Robert Workman

Aside from the performances, the show itself feels more like an experience as The Vaults are completely transformed into a 1940s cabaret space. Designer Carla Goodman’s attention to detail is immaculate, with vintage trinkets and objects laid out even before you enter the auditorium. This theme continues onto the stage, where the cleverly thought-out costumes and props enrich each song.

Miss Nightingale is a funny and well-written musical that brings to life the 1940s cabaret scene, expertly performed by a terrific cast. The whole show is just superb.

Miss Nightingale is at The Vaults until 20th May.

The South Afreakins @ VAULT Festival

The South Afreakins is a comic and heartfelt story of an elderly couples’ emigration from South Africa to New Zealand, inspired by writer and performer Robyn Paterson’s own family. In this one-woman show Paterson plays both roles – Gordon and Helene – and her energy feeds the imagination, making it feel as though both are genuinely present on stage.

When Gordon’s retirement finally sets in, Helene is determined to convince him to move to New Zealand from their home in a South Africa – to leave behind her fears and the memories of her murdered son. Reluctantly, Gordon joins her on this journey, and as Helene becomes comfortable and confident with her surroundings, he becomes more and more isolated in his new home.

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It’s takes a bit of time to get used to Paterson switching between the two characters, as well as trying to understand Gordon’s especially thick South African accent – this isn’t helped by the fact that our initial introduction is in the dark and behind the curtain making Paterson’s voice quite muffled. But once she gets into her stride, it’s a delight to see her as the old couple. Her characterisation is brilliantly thought-out and her mannerisms as each person are hysterically on point. By the end you’re heartbreakingly invested in both characters.

Paterson is a strong performer. She fills the stage with life and her familial ties to the story add warmth to her performance. The show is hilarious from beginning to end, but does have some intense sobering moments highlighting themes of displacement, immigration and race. The South Afreakins is a great piece of work expertly put together and performed by Paterson.

The South Afreakins is at the VAULT Festival until 19th February.

The Collector @ The Vaults Theatre

Based on John Fowles’ novel The Collector, Mark Healy’s new play brings to the stage the classic thriller in a more updated setting. While the story is gripping, and the set is beautifully put together, the lengthiness of the performance prolongs the discomfort caused by the characters, creating an unexciting conclusion for an otherwise entertaining play.

Frederick (Daniel Portman) is a butterfly collector, obsessively collating the beasts for his own pleasure. When he wins the lottery, his obsession reaches an ultimate level. Instead of wasting his time at the job centre, he uses his money to buy a cottage and convert the basement into a special guestroom – one for his new obsession, Miranda (Lily Loveless). Once kidnapped, Miranda realises using force is useless again Frederick, and instead sttempts to appeal to his emotional side, his obsessive, “loving” character. But in the end, Miranda turns into just another of Frederick’s collected specimens – a beautiful, lifeless butterfly.

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Photo: Scott Rylander

Portman’s Frederick is sinister yet there are aspects to his character that makes him pitiful. He craves the attention of Miranda, yet is aware that his background limits his abilities to speak to her. When he speaks, he directs his speech to the audience, drawing everyone in. His sincerity and soft-spoken demeanor allows the audience to overlook his immoral actions at the start. Healy uses Miranda’s diary as a vessel for her to tell the audience her inner emotions. She describes how frightened she is of being in the grasps of her captor, and how she now has a different perspective on life. But on stage Loveless is unable to passionately express these feelings. The act of her kidnapping and the state she is in is horrific, yet it is hard to like and tolerate her character. Portman on the other hand managers to get the audience onto his side. His unintentional humour and sympathetic character makes Frederick endearing, and it is easy to hope he makes a reciprocal connection with the woman he is in love with. But this feeling stops towards the end of the play when things get violent and physically threatening.

The set is very well put together by Max Dorey, who uses the space to epitomise Miranda’s claustrophobia. The antique-looking furniture shoved to the sides of the stage, is contrasted by the shelves at the back stocked with bottled water, Diet Coke, and toothbrushes, creating an uneasy atmosphere. This discomfort is represented by Joe Hufton’s direction, which is static and uncomfortable, and therefore mirrors Miranda’s desire to leave. The action however does go on for too long, and the pace towards the conclusion slows down instead of being more energetic. Consequently, the ending does not have an intense impact as perhaps it could have. The first half of Healy’s play is engaging, and Portman’s Frederick is a delight to watch, but it is the underplayed and insignificant finale that lets down  The Collector.

The Collector is at The Vaults Theatre until 28th August.