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 Significant Other Festival @ The Vaults

Made up of a series of 10 short plays, each also 10 minutes long, The Significant Other Festival by The Pensive Federation is a collection of work celebrating relationships. From couples to friends, to family and acquaintances, the mini-festival is an eclectic mix of stories created in just 10 days. Though some do stand out more than others for their stronger stories, overall it is a pleasant experience.

In Flurry, written by Olu Alakija, three old friends meet in a forest, looking for the spot they buried a corpse. Alakija’s language explores actions of violence and remorsefulness well, neatly fitting a lot of information compactly into a short period of time. The direction by Sophie Flack instantly creates an eerie and cold atmosphere befitting it’s subject, making Flurry stick out from the rest with its dark theme.

Rob Greens’ Overcast is another memorable piece, which examines sex, relationships and virtual dating. When a man and a woman fall in love with the same person, it takes a third to help them realise the truth – their love is not reciprocated. Greens’ cleverly written exchanges are full of detail, and the piece is very well performed by the actors (Christi Van Clarke, Hanna Lucas, Jamie Coleman), who capture their characters’ quirks perfectly.

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While some of the playwrights were able to create great situations in such a short period of time, others struggle to give their characters and their stories enough depth, creating some confusing pieces of work. Alexander Williams’ Gust, which focuses on a group of housemates, is very hard to make sense of. It requires a lot of hard work to keep up and understand the story, especially as the relationship between the characters is unclear throughout. In the end there is no comfortable conclusion, leaving it flat.

Similarly, Sylvia Arthur’s Haze is difficult to follow. Three siblings are at their mother’s funeral when one discovers a photo of her in bed with a man. As they discuss the photo, the conversation turns to each of their relationships with their mother, and politics. Arthur’s text is erratic, and the constant jump from one character to the other gives the piece an irregular rhythm, making it distracting to watch and overall quite dull.

The short plays are connected to each other through the theme of weather – each playwright was given a weather condition to write the play around – but other aspects connect them to one another too. A pair of binoculars, a tape measure and some badminton rackets make an appearance in more than one piece. This makes it feel like they connect with each other which is a nice touch, emphasising The Pensive Federation’s collaborative way of working. Although some of the plays are more engaging than others, the fact that the team work together to stage each piece in just 10 days is very impressive and admirable, and even for that reason alone, it’s worth a visit to The Significant Other Festival.

The Significant Other Festival is at The Vaults until 18th April.