Fox Hunting @ The Coutyard Theatre

With knife crime rising in London, theatre company Elah Productions’ new play Fox Hunting is a timely piece that tackles this subject. Based on interviews with those directly affected by knife crime, the story puts five young men from London its centre, delving into each of their backgrounds to look at how they have found themselves amongst the violence. Full of thought-provoking dialogue and humour, the show is a good addition to the discussion surrounding knife crime in the capital.

A group of young men have congregated at a funeral. They’re strangers to each other, but it soon transpires that they’re all from South London. While telling a very animated story, one of them mentions foxes and how much he hates them, going as far as to suggest fox hunting should never have been banned. Another enquires as to why – “they’re just innocent animals” – which begins a debate about what innocence means, leading to each individual to tell the audience their story.

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What makes the play stand out is writer and performer David Alade’s choice to give a voice to perpetrators as well as victims. It’s easy to dismiss individuals and make assumptions when you hear about yet another stabbing that has occurred in the capital, but Alade’s text sheds a light on the fact that it’s not always as black and white as it might appear. One heartbreaking moment comes at the beginning of the piece when the character Terrel, effortlessly performed by Chris J Gordon’s, receives praise from his brother after stabbing someone. He is remorseful for his actions, but can finally be accepted by his brother as someone he shouldn’t be ashamed of. These conflicting and complex emotions are handled superbly by the ensemble, making the play engaging and each character sympathetic.

While the subject is a serious one, there are elements of comedy in the piece, which brings out some great performances from the cast. Alade as the police officer caricature is a personal highlight – completely over-the-top but an absolute joy to watch. At the same time, his performance as Joshua, a 17-year old boy murdered because of a case of mistaken identity, is heartbreaking. Although the show is funny, the humour is used as a device to add sympathy to the characters, and not necessarily to mock them.

There are times when the action does feel juvenile and awkward, particularly during moments when everyone performs in unison. But this is easy to look past because the show is entertaining as a whole. With knife violence currently being such a normality for young people from London, Fox Hunting is an honest, real-life look at its effects. Even if though it is upsetting to watch at points, the play is a valuable source for larger conversations.

Fox Hunting is at The Courtyard Theatre until 19th May.

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Henry V @ The Tramshed

I have found that it can be difficult to make Shakespeare’s history plays engaging as most audiences do not find them as interesting as his other work. This is why The Merely Players’ Henry V was a pleasant surprise, and what makes this contemporary adaptation more interesting is director Scott Ellis’ gender-blind casting.

After the death of his father, Henry V (Zena Carswell) becomes King of England. When the King of France mocks him by sending him tennis balls, Henry decides to invade France. He proves to be a successful leader, walking amongst his troupes and going into battle himself. Henry triumphantly leads England to victory, and in the end of the play, his marriage to the French King’s daughter Catherine establishes a strong relationship between the two countries.

The performance has some very notable aspects which makes it a great piece. Ellis has used a football setting for the play, transferring the war between the two countries into a match between two teams. This transformation is appropriate, as both are about camaraderie and triumph. As there are only five actors, the use of the football shirts helps the audience differentiate between the characters, and highlights the different sides. I especially liked the use of the shirts during the scene where Henry discovers he has been betrayed by Scroop, Cambridge and Grey. Hanging the shirts on a washing line allowed Carswell’s Henry to interrogate the three conspirators perfectly, but also brought elements of comedy to this scene. It was very interesting to watch.

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Carswell is very powerful as Henry, and she is able to easily convince the audience of her ability to lead a country to triumph. Emmy Rose’s portrayal of Catherine is very elegant, and when playing the Boy, she is very funny, especially during the translation scene. Equally, Stephen Leask, as Catherine’s lady-in-waiting Alice, is hilarious. The audience could not stop laughing every time he appeared on stage. The team work well as an ensemble, switching between each role seamlessly and presenting each character convincingly to the audience. Even though there were just five of them on stage, the team perfectly presented the play’s “thousand parts”.

The company’s stripped-back approach allows the audience to focus on Shakespeare’s language and the characters. The added bonus is that Ellis has fit everything into 90 minutes. Yes this means some of the plot is subtracted from the play, but for this type of production, in this venue especially, the length is perfect. Additionally, the company’s gender-blind casting gives the talented female actors an opportunity to take on Shakespeare’s great roles. The Merely Players have created a very entertaining and engaging adaptation of Henry V.