Category Archives: Theatre

Review: Athol Fugard’s “The Island” at Chapter by Roger Barrington

(4 / 5)

When “The Island” was invited to play at the Royal Court Theatre, London  in 1973, such was the incendiary reaction to it’s Cape Town premiere shortly before,that  Fugard’s fellow devisers,  John Kani and Winston Ntshona, also the actors of their namesakes in the play, had to pose as Fugard’s chauffeur and gardener, to allow them out of the country. The fact that Fugard neither had a chauffeur or a gardener was beside the point.

“The island” is one of a group of three plays by Fugard collectively known as “The Statement Plays”.  Together with “Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act” and “Sizwe Bansi is Dead” both from 1972, the plays were developed in workshops  through Fugard’s company, “The Serpent Players”.

“The Island” is based on Robben Island located off the coast of Cape Town and was the notorious home for political prisoners going back as far as the end of the 17th century. It’s most famous inmate being Nelson Mandela who was incarcerated there for eighteen of his twenty-seven years, up to his release in February 1990.  Mandela and his African National Congress colleagues were greeted with the ominous words upon their arrival, “This is the island. This is where you will die”.

Such was the sensitivity of this place, ironically now a World Heritage Site, that the title of the play had to be changed to “Die Hodoshe Span”, or “Hodoshe’s Work Team.” Hodoshe, (in Xhosan it means a “carrion fly”),  refers to a particularly brutal prison guard who is an unseen ominous presence throughout the play. The reference suggesting the parasitic nature of the South African apartheid regime in power, seems to have flown over the heads of the government.

The play was written in 1973 at a time when Apartheid was in full throttle in South Africa. A shameful policy that shows man’s inhumanity to others due to  a different colour of skin, is at its most repulsive. Yet for almost the duration of Apartheid, from it’s beginnings in 1948 to it’s eventual demise in the early 1990’s, the South African government were rigorously supported by lucrative economic deals with the U.K. This point is made explicitly clear as soon as you enter the auditorium by two monitors on either side of the stage relating this in text. This also mentions Prime Minister May’s little dance when she attended earlier this year to mark the centennial birth of Nelson Mandela – notorious not only for its artistic ineptitude but also to the insensitivity of the  British role in Apartheid, which is not something to dance about!

Athol’s “The island” is  Brechtian in its structure. Where the two protagonists display their  human strengths and weaknesses yet are caught up in a system that is beyond their power to influence or change. The didactic nature of the play also connect to Brecht.

Fio’s production breaks away from the direction imposed by Fugard that calls for mime to represent the Sisyphean nature of the two prisoners’ daily tasks for a period of at least 15 minutes. This production opens with a powerful statement by the two actors emerging from opposite entrances behind the audience. They look you straight in the face and tell you why they burnt their passports. In actuality, in the play, only Winston has burnt his passport, an exceedingly serious crime that resulted in a life sentence, as the passport system was a fundamental instrument for imposing Apartheid. John had received a ten-year sentence for being a member of an illegal political organisation.  The onerous nature of the daily tasks the two prisoners endured is exemplified by the two actors repeatedly rolling the other over their back, and the physicality of doing this probably determined the truncation of the 15 minute set mime.

An important introduction to the play, something that Fugard tended to do at this period of his writing, is the introduction of the classical play, Antigone by Sophocles, which in turn, is  based upon Greek mythology. It is clearly apparent that Creon, King of the Thebes represents Apartheid and Antigone herself personifies human rights. She is in fact, in literature the first conscientious objector. This piece of metatheatre, has Winston comically adjusting his few clothes to represent a skirt and donning two tin drinking vessels to represent breasts. By choosing to re-enact a scene from Antigone to it’s audience, (which one would surmise, at least  comprises of members of the prison staff), itself as a weapon against those who think they are directing the theatre of life in South Africa, John and Winston transform their theatre of acquiescence into a Brechtian theatre of protest.

In the final words of the play, Winston, still dressed as Antigone, takes a turn addressing the audience, “Brothers and Sisters of the Land! I go now on my last  journey. I must leave the light of day forever, for the Island, strange and cold, to be lost  between life and death .., Removing his Antigone costume, Winston then addresses the audience as  himself, “Gods of our Fathers!  My Land! My Home! Time waits no longer. I go now to my living death, because I honoured those things to which honour belongs” John and Winston upon hearing the shrill whistle that features throughout the play, and which represents authority, resort back to their Sisyphean tasks.

Heady stuff! No wonder the Apartheid government felt compelled to censure this play and constantly arrest actors who played in it.

Both Joe Shire as John and Wela Mbusi as Winston embody the two characters that they are playing with great skill and agility, and deliver Fugard’s beautifully cadential script perfectly. They manage to change their relationship to each other determined by the script after John finds out that his sentence has been commuted to three years, leaving him only  three month to remain incarcerated, and Winston’s realisation that he is going to be even more isolated after his friend’s departure is handled in an understated way that is even the more powerful for it.

An important feature of this play has to be the lighting. It needs to reflect the claustrophobic nature of being incarcerated in a small space and expresses the optimism of a better existence outside of their unnatural environment. Ryan Joseph Stafford manages this by the simple technique of using low light to empathise the prisoners’ isolation and lack of space, and brilliant blinding light when they express their hopes and desires.

Andile Sotiya’s movement direction is almost balletic at times using the sparse set with surrounding steel apparatus to great effect. Abdul Shayek’s assured direction, never lets the pace of the play lag.

“The Island” is an elegant play that explicitly shows the dehumanisation of men purely based upon the colour of their skin. It is as relevant now, in an increasingly divisive society as it was over 40 years ago, when written. I would thoroughly recommend you seeing this important play from one of the leading contemporary playwrights in world theatre.

 

Roger Barrington

Continue reading Review: Athol Fugard’s “The Island” at Chapter by Roger Barrington

The Messiah, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

It’s nigh-impossible to read the title of the newest play by The 39 Steps scribe Patrick Barlow without calling to mind that most iconic of Monty Python one liners – and Life of Brian is definitely an influence on this comedy about a hapless theatre troupe putting on a shambolic production of the greatest story ever told. Whilst it doesn’t reach the comedic heights of Cleese & co. arguing about what the Romans ever did for us, it manages to be a triffic trip through theatre tropes nonetheless.

Hugh Dennis is entertainingly harried and haranguing as Maurice Rose, an actor admirably fighting to stage his dream production despite diminishing resources and will to live. Although the play constrains Dennis’ natural flair for improvisation by trapping him in a rather fruitless ‘straight man’ role, he gamely leads the increasingly (and intentionally) chaotic performance of the Nativity story with deadpan wit and a sort of hangdog brio that grounds the action even as the humour gets curiouser and curiouser.

John Marquez as Ronald Bream is a revelation; he gives a 5-star performance in a play that desperately needs but doesn’t quite deserve him. Part Charlie Chaplin, part Michael Crawford, with a bit of ‘Allo ‘Allo’s Officer Crabtree thrown in for good measure, Marquez owns the stage in every word, gesture and intonation. His delivery alone makes a so-so line sensational, and there was very little he did which didn’t result in hysterics from the audience – his lovably oblivious mispronunciation of words in particular had us all in stitches. But the crowning glory of his performance is a Terry Jones-esque rendition of Mary, and his bickering with Dennis’ somewhat browbeaten Joseph is worth the price of admission alone.

Lesley Garrett rounds out the trio as diva Leonora Fflyte aka Mrs F, bringing glitz, glamour and a truly beautiful voice – but is ultimately wasted in a thankless, tangential role. Although she performs stunning renditions of Silent Night and In the Bleak Midwinter, her character adds nothing to the plot in a play which could have easily been a two-hander. Given the purposefully scrappy nature of the comedy, it would have worked better with the theme if Lesley Garrett played an opera singer who couldn’t sing (after all, it takes an excellent musician to portray a bad one – as Les Dawson proved some years ago). And it would have been more interesting if Mrs F was Maurice’s much-discussed ex, making their professional dynamic fraught with interpersonal tension.

The play is consistently entertaining – when it’s funny, it’s hilarious; but when it’s not, it really shows – and there are a few standout scenes which elevated the action: an atmospheric recreation of the Three Wise Men following the star had an otherworldly magic to it, and their subsequent flight from Herod had a sense of genuine urgency and thrill to it. This was especially noticeable in a play which had little drive throughout, and a perceptible lull in the second act – though they made up for it with a hilarious re-enactment of Jesus’ birth involving a lengthy Call the Midwife homage.

And the set is absolutely gorgeous: a dilapidated circle of Ancient Roman columns rotates dramatically when the drama requires, framed by a luxurious lapis lazuli curtain decorated to look like the starry night sky.  The title ‘THE MESSIAH’, picked out in gold on a blood red cloth, is held aloft by two medieval angels that look as if they’d been airlifted straight out of The Book of Hours. And the ambience is aided by some neat lighting and smoke effects, plus a cool little light-up Bethlehem (complete with stable) and a rather grand heavenly star (the celestial kind) that swings in imperiously when needed. I’m not usually a fan of piped music in theatre productions, but this is one of the few exceptions: they chose absolutely brilliant scores that underlined and enhanced the emotions in any scene, from the Ben Hur/ The Ten Commandments-style epic orchestral numbers, to the excellent use of Wojciech Kilar’s sumptuous score from Bram Stoker’s Dracula).

Although the play sells itself on its comedically haphazard tone, there were some odd things about the production that made me question its intentions. The doors didn’t even open until about 5 minutes before the curtain was due to rise, and even when everyone was settled in the auditorium, the play still started late. Instead of making up time after Act 1, the interval also ran over, making us wait to see a second act which ultimately felt overlong in execution. The fair bit of audience participation (which I object to on principle) is all in good fun as long as you’re not in an aisle seat – though attempts to recreate an ‘I do believe in fairies’ moment and pass the farce off as a ‘spiritual discovery’ feel forced.

And finally… there’s a truly great play hiding within this; cut the interval and the superfluous stuff and make it one single act played straight through (which was a great move in Mischief Movie Night), make it a two-hander or develop Lesley’s character and give her more to do. As presented, it’s a production with a bit of an identity crisis, with little clarity as to what it wanted to be or say. Murder for Two and The 39 Steps deconstructed theatre in clever, inventive ways, but in this it feels as if the theatre symbolically (and occasionally literally) is falling down around them. It’s not the Messiah, it’s a very messy play.

Review for Coat by Tanica Psalmist – Albany Theatre

(5 / 5)

Coat is a solo play performed and written by Yomi Sode. Coat exhibits Yomi’s life growing up as an English citizen with Nigerian descent. What better way to not only present a personal autobiography reflective of his life, but also create sensory through delicious smells to escort the audiences mind in to Yomi’s world.

The layout of the set was an interior design kitchen, featuring compartments as well as electric hobs installed to embody a stove; where he prepped his basmati rice, tomato stew and marinated chicken breasts. The aromatic smells majestically presented the feel of an enticing household, with a kitchen surface fused with ingredients ready to cook with. As the sweet smelling aromas emitted into the atmosphere with smoke ascending from the pots steaming into Yomi’s face, he stood there smiling to himself in the mists of his busy environment slicing, stirring and calling out to his mum for her acknowledgment.

Coat explores the themes of identity, belonging and origin, documenting real life scenario’s and issues growing up in London. When you’re not entirely understood, shown appreciation of your cultural differences, underrepresented in the media, being an ethnic minority in your school so frequently hear miss-pronunciation’s of your name when called by the tutor, leading to mockery and ignorance from peers, not realising the emotional damage it causes. Ashamed of being seen wearing traditional dress wear, feeling convicted when confronted and being contradicting when questioned to whether he’d identified as a Black British, a Londoner or as a Nigerian. Confused, misguided and unappreciated when he does answer and having respect lost and feeling detached from himself.

Not black enough when living in the UK, not African enough for not speaking the Native tongue and facing flaws of not feeling man enough. The narrative in Coat did a good job in portraying mental conflict, emotional battles and the complications of juggling two cultures. A production reflecting personal insight in to Yomi’s tradition and up-bringing from a boy into a man by his mum; reaching a state of appreciating how to cook a traditional dish, receive acknowledgment from his mum and peace of mind once he knows who he is and where he’s from.

Coat is hysterical as Yomi uses multi-rolling techniques to impersonate several roles brilliantly including his mother, marked by the changing of voices, movement, gesture and body language.  An organically humorous and culturally entertaining, emotionally impacting play, that’s full of relatable, iconic scenes with incorporated elements of spoken word.

 

 

Tanica Psalmist

Lord of the Flies, Sherman Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Theatr Clwyd/ Sherman Theatre’s bold restaging of William Golding’s timelessly-relevant novel follows an all-female main cast as they delve into the heart of darkness within us all. Marooned on an island after their plane crashes and their guardians perish, a group of schoolchildren in an ambiguously modernish wartime era band together to form their own society in a world that promises freedom and danger in equal measure.

I must confess to only a passing familiarity with the original text; it was something I read during my angsty teenage years and promptly forgot in large part, except for a vague awareness of conch shells and pig heads and descents into moral turpitude. For a more informed analysis of the production as adaptation, I direct you to superb reviews by Vicky Lord and Roger Barrington; as for my experience of the play, it’s more a collection of my thoughts experiencing the story as if for the first time. And what a play it is! Masterfully directed by Emma Jordan, the story is immediate and intense, dropping us into the cacophony of beautifully distinct and dynamically-drawn characters who hold our attention and empathy just as the audience holds its breath right up to the final moment.

Lola Adaja’s fantastic, multi-faceted performance as Ralph anchors the entire production; vibrant and assertive, Adaja brilliantly leads the excellent ensemble and believably transforms from self-assured schoolgirl to stricken survivor by the play’s close. Her fraught friendship with Gina Fillingham’s Piggy feels earnest and earned, aided by the lovely chemistry between the two. The play is of course rather dark overall – but I was surprised by how funny it was too, and though every character gets a comedic moment in which to shine, a lot of the most entertaining moments are there thanks to Fillingham and her superb comedic timing. Piggy is entertainingly bureaucratic, constantly suggesting meetings and memoranda – but she also gives the play its heart, which makes her poor treatment at the hands of her peers even more painful to witness.

One of the most compelling performances comes from Kate Lamb as Jack Merridew, who believes that the divine right of choirmasters/ prefects makes her the only and best choice to rule their new realm. Lamb is delightfully domineering and priggish as the overbearing Merridew, so authentic in her arrogance that she feels like That Person we all remember from our own school days – which makes her twisted transformation all the more powerful. Hannah Boyce’s militant, murderous Roger is genuinely scary and violently unpredictable, nicely contrasting with Lowri Hamer’s uber-innocent Percyval. Olivia Marcus’ Simon adds a welcome serene presence and a calm gravitas to the increasingly grave proceedings. Lowri and Mari Izzard are charming as trouble-making twins Sam and Eric, while Laura Singleton’s Henry and Leah Walker’s Maurice make for an absolutely hilarious double act.

Matthew Bulgo’s anonymous, officiously angry naval officer arrives at the eleventh hour; a Fortinbras-like newcomer to the brutality only the audience had yet borne witness to. Scolding the surviving children for acting in a way he ‘wouldn’t expect of British girls’, the role of moral arbiter disappointingly defaults to the only white man in the story – but we the viewers are the true judges; what he infantilises as a ‘game’ we know to be a complexly brutal social hierarchy that acts as a microcosm for our own vicious world. After all, this is a story in which war rages both across the world and within the human psyche.

Nigel Williams’ adaptation neatly balances character and narrative growth with political commentary, though that means some elements are more developed than others: the major ones being the rivalry between Ralph and Jack, and the strange bond between Ralph and Piggy. Although the remaining characters are all very believably performed, they are given little time to craft their own unique transformations. It doesn’t help that the timeline is a bit confusing, making the inevitable moral downturn feel slightly rushed; and after the macabre mic drop of Act 1’s breathless climactic moments, Act 2 seemed like a hectic sprint through the falling dominoes.

The show is a marvel of innovative design – James Perkins’ jagged, fractured staging combines with Philip Stewart’s chilling music and sound design to convey an uneasily tangible feeling of being right there on the island as the action unfolds. There are a few particularly striking moments when Tim Mascall’s sensational lighting transforms the stage into a living painting – the most astounding of which centres on the hunters, crouched with spears at the ready, silhouetted against a blood orange sky (I haven’t seen such powerful use of chiaroscuro since Bram Stoker’s Dracula).

It’s always a privilege to be invited to speak on the post-show panel, and the discussion following this show was among the most interactive and illuminating yet. Chaired by Timothy Howe, the Sherman Theatre’s Communities & Engagement Coordinator, the panel featured myself alongside the play’s Assistant Director Jesse Briton, and David Mellor, Senior Lecturer of Sociology at the University of South Wales. Jesse spoke about how the creative team focused on the play’s emotional turning points, in which one moment, decision or mistake changed the course of the story irrevocably. David spoke of the gendered expectations of women, highlighting the sexist media response to Serena Williams’ recent on-court behaviour. And I spoke of the play’s excellent exploration of responsibility, the fracturing of mens rea/ the guilty mind across many, and the notion that even the audience bears tacit culpability for the characters’ crimes.

When there are no formal rules to follow, no pressure from the state and no loss of personal liberty or status to act as a deterrent, what else is there to ensure enforcement of order but the threat of violence? The scene in which the group commit a ritual-esque murder whilst already hopped-up on the glory of their first animal kill is distressing and soberingly gruesome. It’s the first breach of the unspoken moral code that only opens the floodgates to more bloodshed; what role can ethics play in a society that holds such depravity as currency? Ultimately, the malleability of the conch’s power reveals that laws only carry the meaning we assign to them.

The fact that the play translates so well with an all-female main cast demonstrates the emptiness of the concept of gendered (mis)conduct. Rather than proving the inherent monstrosity of men (as one reviewer of the novel argued), this version speaks to the notion that everyone has the potential to indulge their baser instincts if the ethical frameworks of law and order are removed; that everyone is fighting the duality of light and darkness with them. But the gender-swapped casting choice also facilitates a reading of the play as a rare exploration of female criminality, and a brutal reclaiming of women’s autonomy and agency in the #MeToo era.

Lord of the Flies is an utterly unrelenting, unmissable journey into our most uncomfortable, unconscious urges. In the characters’ stead, it asks what world you would build; who, or what, would you become?

Review: Lord of the Flies at The Sherman Theatre by Roger Barrington

 

 

(3.5 / 5)

Emma Jordan’s Sherman Theatre/Theatr Clwyd co-production of William Golding’s 1954 novel, “Lord of the Flies” takes a bold approach by having the adolescent boys’ roles played by young actresses.

 

 

Those of you who are observant, will notice the entirely masculine presence of Matthew Bulgo in the above photo of the cast, a point I think I should make clear!

In her programme notes, partly Ms. Jordan qualifies this by writing that texts of well known stories can challenge the traditional ways of accepting the reading. After all, if there is only one way of interpreting Shakespeare, it is extremely doubtful whether his popularity and esteem would have carried on to this day.

What confuses me though is that the masculine names of the cast in this production are maintained, which may have the effect of an audience being torn between believing the characters are girls or boys. If it is the latter, then all power to it, because there is nothing wrong with an actress playing the role of the opposite gender, because, that is what they do… act. and I shall take this point of view.

Published in 1954, with The Cold War in full swing, Golding pens a taut novel full of warning about the effect war has in dehumanizing us. During a time of conflict, a plane carrying a group of British schoolchildren boys, is shot don over the Pacific. With the pilot dead, the surviving boys have to come to terms with their predicament and the hostile environment they find themselves in.

In essence, director Emma Jordan and adapter Nigel Williams, manage to keep the message of the book intact in this adaptation. The division of the group into the civilised and the savage, with members of the latter group regressing into simian characteristics. The promotion of self-interest over the needs of the community as exemplified by the division of the camp itself is shown explicitly. A topic that I regularly debated with students in my ten years in China.  Man’s , (through Jack and his gang) instinctive urge to hunt shows the way he relates to his environment. The loss of innocence, a kind of collective bildungsroman is also prevalent and the final emergence of their salvation by a British naval officer, a representative of the military and martial authority, and therefore linked to Jack,  leaves you with the nagging fear that even war aged by the right side, (the British in this case), has negative connotations.

The symbolism of the conch representing order and a civilised society, Piggy’s glasses indicating rationality and the benefits of science and technology, and the fire a signal to attract a civilised response are all present and cogently indicated.

The enthusiastic cast do well enough, although constant shouting throughout the first part left me searching for my packet of Ibuprofen during the interval! Gina Fillingham’s Piggy and Olivia Marcus’s Simon, maybe identified closest to the characters from the book I recall. LolaAdaja as Ralph also conveyed her character’s basic decency and indecision well. It is entirely possible that I have a natural bias towards the rational characters.

Where this production scores well is with the set design and lighting. James Perkins practical design of a meandering rising pathway to an elevated lookout is striking. Together with Tim Mascall’s impressive lighting, they manage to provide an atmospheric setting that shows the isolation of the boys in one of the quieter passages of the play.

 

 

This is a decent adaptation of a book that in the ever-increasing danger of  inflammatory geopolitical rhetoric and actions bears resonance today. Noisy, energetic, slightly distracting, you can’t be critical of  it’s good  intention.

Continue reading Review: Lord of the Flies at The Sherman Theatre by Roger Barrington

‘Street’ and ‘Izzy’s Manifestos’ from Spilt Milk by Gareth Ford-Elliott

Spilt Milk’s double bill of Street by Susan Monkton and Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones (23/10 – 26/10 2018) is their second production of the year, having staged the impressive Five Green Bottles by Joe Wiltshire-Smith at the Cardiff Fringe in May. Along with various scratch nights, the company are a busy one, offering various opportunities for Cardiff’s creative scene.

And this double bill showcases exactly that. A work-in-progress piece from emerging writer and actor Susan Monkton, as well as a more polished piece from Kevin Jones.

The evening starts as any Spilt Milk night would, with a warm welcome at the door and an invitation to the bar, where lovely Kate and Leo from AJ’s Coffee House will serve you. The setting of AJ’s is intimate, cosy and always makes for a nice evening of theatre, this being no different.

Street by Susan Monkton  (3 / 5)

Street is only Susan Monkton’s second piece of writing that she has shared with the public, and with it being a work-in-progress, that has been taken into account for the review.

The play follows a young woman, Laura (portrayed by Ella Maxwell), as she walks home from a one night stand, only to be met with a bomb explosion on City Road in Cardiff. She tends to the wounds of Sammy, a young boy, before fleeing the scene. This causes guilt in her mind to circle, until a knock at the door from a police officer assures her that the boy is okay, and that she’s done nothing wrong. The opposite in fact, she is “my hero” in Sammy’s words.

Overall, it feels as though the writer has found a topic, but not really explored in depth the character or the situation. The point of the play, why the story needed to be told by this character and the writer’s aims aren’t really clear.

The police officer scene is fairly awkward, in part because the officer speaks over the sound system as a voice-over. But it also feels unrealistic for the officer to show up, bring her pair of shoes and comfort her.

Aspects like Sammy being revealed as a refugee is a detail that feels thrown in, unnecessary and really takes characterisation away from him. Almost to ramp up the tragedy, but ends up falling into the trope of white heroinism.

The setting of City Road is a multicultural area of Cardiff and in the national discussion of refugees and terrorism, it is impossible to get away from the topic of Islam. The connotations of these aspects of the play really need looking into as combined with the white heroism, it creates a potentially problematic play.

A play that focuses on the victims and tragedy of the situation could have more responsibility in considering the connotations of the setting, characterisation and main themes.

The opening monologue about Laura’s night out is a bit odd in contrast to the rest of the piece. However, it does portray Laura as someone ultimately not ready to be a hero. That continues to be a big theme throughout the play, but a theme that makes the protagonist fairly passive. Things happen to her rather than because of her actions.

There are some really strong moments of humour early in the play, which is definitely a strong area of Monkton’s writing having seen her previous work. There is also strong characterisation for Laura and some really emotional writing. The script shows real promise but it requires work and needs to be more careful in certain areas.

Ella Maxwell does an excellent job in portraying Laura, really throwing herself into the script, bringing out the humour when appropriate, but also handling the more emotional parts of the play really well also.

Street is directed with real care from Becca Lidstone with close attention to detail. Paced well with key points in the script really standing out. No doubt that some of Maxwell’s excellent work is down to this direction, not to take any credit away.

There were moments where sound effects used felt awkward which Lidstone and sound designer Nick Laws could work on. They seemed to be chucked in and rather than adding to the scene, distracted somewhat.

Overall it is worth going to see to give feedback on the script and for Ella Maxwell’s great performance. But certainly a play that needs work.

Street by Susan Monkton
Cast: Ella Maxwell as Laura
Directed by: Becca Lidstone
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones  (4 / 5)

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones was initially performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. However, has been developed and brought back as a brand-new production by Spilt Milk.

The play follows a young girl called Izzy, who, after her father’s death when she is fourteen, creates manifestos by which she lives her life. It is an unpredictable, hilarious, yet potentially heart-breaking piece of theatre.

I say potentially, as the script certainly doesn’t live up to it’s high potential. That’s not to say it’s not of a high quality. It is really funny and a strong piece of theatre. However, it ends abruptly and leaves you wanting more.

Before the play starts, Angharad Berrow goes around the room, in character, telling people that the play was about to start. This along with Berrow’s energy sets the tone for the play which moves very quickly, jumping from stage to stage of Izzy’s life.

Izzy is witty, excited, evil and brilliantly portrayed by Angharad Berrow. Not afraid to break the fourth wall, which works well as there are planned and unplanned examples of this, all of which Berrow handles very well.

The piece is well directed by Luke Hereford and despite lack of emotion in the character, Hereford finds other ways of displaying what is under the surface of the character. In particular, manipulating tone and pace to good effect. This really shows what a promising director he really is.

The main issue here comes in that there seems something missing at the end. Some emotion. Izzy spends the whole play (and previous years of her life) ignoring her father’s death and not grieving. When she finally lets herself think of her father, which she admits to the audience, there doesn’t seem to be a consequence of this. The story seems focused on Izzy reaching that point – but not on what that might mean for her moving forward. The ending is generally rushed and seems unfinished.

It’s hard to say exactly what it needs, but it needs some more care and to show more emotion in the conclusion. Just as the play feels like it’s getting somewhere, it finishes.

It was the only major issue with the play, but it was the difference between four and five stars. Other than that, it is a really enjoyable piece of theatre on all fronts and definitely worth seeing.

Izzy’s Manifestos by Kevin Jones
Cast: Angharad Berrow as Izzy
Directed by Luke Hereford
Produced by: Tobias Weatherburn
Sound Design and Stage Manager: Nick Laws
Venue: AJ’s Coffee House
From Spilt Milk Theatre

Review by Gareth Ford-Elliott

It Tastes Like Home, Divergent Theatre Collective, The Bread and Roses Theatre by Tanica Psalmist

(4 / 5)

Dim sum dumplings with Jerk chicken, Jerk chicken in dim sum dumplings with Plantain; two different worlds come together, fusion of oriental spices and Jamaican entices. A tale of relatable sacrifices and connections made via online devices.

It Tastes Like Home is written by Lorna Wells, music by Eudora Yutong Qiuo; which is fused with Reggae and Chinese influences.

 

Two well cultured people connect to reflect a cooking career as a chef. Curry goat with egg fried rice, sparkles a seasoned, yummy paradise. Inspiring them to exercise their passion for food with the hope to one day see the desires of their heart breakthrough to make good food. The character Yi who’s of Chinese descent wears a mysterious mask to disguise him-self when doing online reviews, which leads on to the character Camillia from Jamaican descent to discover his channel and tune in whenever he appears online to update the world on upcoming dishes that his parents Chinese restaurant supplies. Oblivious Camillia, doesn’t know she’s a regular visitor of the mysterious bloggers restaurant, however Yi does which is hysterical as Yi wants to make his attraction to the Island girl evident, but nervous of approval from his Asian parents. We see an insight into cultures, traditions, stereotypes and complexities when being from either background.

A beautiful tale of two worlds in one life, themed around interracial relationships, intertwined culture, family standards, biracial acceptance, Identity and family disputes. An emotional cycle of when harmony fulfils happiness and morals and passion are stirred together. A multicultural musical exploring a unique production of the first generations who are London based searching for hope and belonging.

Tanica Psamist

 

 

Murder for Two, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Over the years I’ve had the distinct privilege of seeing excellent theatre productions in which a pared-down cast take on multiple roles to great success: 2016’s The 39 Steps at the New Theatre Cardiff (in which 4 actors played 150 roles between them), and, one of my favourite theatre productions ever, 2009’s Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Sherman Theatre Cardiff (in which two actors masterfully inhabited every role in that particular Shakespeare play). The Watermill Theatre’s new UK tour of the Off-Broadway smash hit Murder for Two, in which two actors play thirteen characters AND the piano, now ranks among those hallowed productions in artistry, energy and pure, no holds barred brilliance.

Murder for Two reassembles the Olivier-award winning In the Heights’ producer-director double act, Paul Taylor-Mills and Luke Sheppard, in the furtherance of a cleverly comical take on the murder mystery genre – it’s like Poirot, but with songs. With such a madcap mashup of genres and a huge burden placed on its only two actors, it’s a miracle they pull off the show at all, let alone do it so well.

Ed MacArthur (left) plays Officer Marcus Moscowicz, the hapless yet hopeful would-be detective who gets embroiled in the crazy case of a famous novelist who was murdered at his own birthday party. Jeremy Legat (right) plays, well, everyone else, infusing each of the numerous suspects with their own distinct physicality and stage presence, from speech patterns to mannerisms to a creative use of props and accessories. There’s no lull in the action or the hilarious antics on display as Moscowicz desperately tries to uncover who the killer is before time runs out.

Legat is a one-man tour-de-force who commands the stage like the manic lovechild of Martin Short, Eddie Marsan and The Hoosiers’ flicky-haired frontman Irwin Sparkes. His credits in this play alone are as numerous as the characters on a Guess Who? board, and he flips through each with the ease of changing the channel on your tellybox. MacArthur plays a commendable straight man to Legat’s rollcall of affably eccentric characters; channelling the leading likability of musical contemporaries like Aaron Tveit and Santino Fontana, MacArthur grounds the madcap antics and ably conveys that put-upon charm of someone just waiting for their chance to come. The chemistry between the two is delightful, balanced and mutually supportive, and the joy they take in playing these characters is utterly infectious – talented, hilarious AND they’re excellent pianists too? The level of skill on display here is simply stunning.

The play itself is just so much fun to watch; the audience’s responsiveness alone is a testament to that fact, genially engaging with the actors’ fourth-wall breaking interactions – and I haven’t laughed this much in a non-Mischief Theatre production for quite some time. The music is also wonderful, not only entertaining to listen to, but which also proves integral in delivering plot points and character motivations. Some standouts include Protocol Says (Moscowicz’s ode to order), A Lot Woise (a Gee, Officer Krupke!-style ditty about having seen too much too young), and the show’s first act-closing magnum opus So What? which simply has to be experienced live.

Gabriella Slade’s set design is appealingly ramshackle in a suitably Sherlockian fashion, all elegantly worn furniture and exposed brick walls gradually dissipating into the ether – the perfect amount of things with which to interact, without seeming too cluttered, and every bit of which serves the story and sets the mood. The lighting (designed by Chris Withers) and sound (co-designed by Michael Livermore and Tom Attwood, the latter of whom was also responsible for musical direction) are both innovatively intertwined into the action, and highlight the emotions of any given scene with subtlety (whilst applying appropriate bombast to a scene near the end I won’t spoil, but which involves a disco ball and lots of bubbles).

This dazzlingly dynamic production will, as the tagline promises, ‘put the laughter in manslaughter’ and bring a smile to your face. Anchored by two tremendously talented leads, this exhilaratingly excellent show never lets up for a second; it’s the Deadpool of musical theatre: a magnificent meta masterpiece that plays like a love letter to theatre in the guise of a farce. It’s at the New Theatre through to Saturday 27th October, and if it’s humanly possible for you to see this show, you absolutely should (though perhaps think twice about getting an aisle seat in the stalls…)

Review: Lord of the Flies (Sherman Theatre) by Vicky Lord

I will be the first to admit that I have had a love/hate relationship with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I was one of the many to study the 1954 novel during secondary school and, while I liked particular elements, I was certainly not a fan. However, mainly through a love for the audiobook, the novel has continually grown on me and now I would say it is a firm favourite which I will re-read multiple times.

As this novel is one so constantly studied in school, due to the layers of imagery, intriguing characters and intriguing presentations of societal and bodily issues, I was immediacy intrigued to see that Lord of the Flies has now been adapted into a play by Nigel Williams which is currently showing at the Sherman Theatre. However, in order to fully review this play in the context of one which is studied so frequently, there will be spoilers for both the plot of the novel and the show and I will also be discussing some ways in which the play deviated away from the novel’s plot in order to make these clear to anyone studying this production in light of the novel. Therefore, this review will be a long one.

Lola Adaja gives an intricate professional stage debut as Ralph. I feel that she balanced the complex sides of Ralph in both opposing Jack but also partaking in the early chaos. The transition between his more childish side in interacting with Jack when they first meet on the island to his role and chief and the heartbreaking final transition back into childish weeping were suitably intriguing and heartbreaking to watch at once. Gina Fillingham’s performance as Piggy felt as if risen directly from Golding’s novel. A delicate balance between comedy and depression for order Fillingham, from her first moments, ensures that piggy’s presence is known despite Jack’s protests.

You may have noticed Williams’ biggest change in adapting Lord of the Flies from novel to stage. All male boy characters, while keeping their original names, are now played by women and all mentions of ‘boy’ are changed to ‘girl’ in-keeping with this. Honestly, when watching the play, in terms of watching the story unfold and the narrative, I barely noticed the change. Rather than wrapping the story around this change, instead this casting and adaption choice folded itself into the preexisting narrative. Therefore, I feel that this production is a good example of showing that this change can be done without compromising any major themes of the narrative.

I feel that this was certainly aided by the construction of the island around the actresses. James Perkins’ design ensures for suitably intricate routes through wooded forests and heightened cliffs which give settings for the action. This design expertly balances the audience’s image of a literal island but also hints towards the island as the construction of small boys, or girls, in this case, playing at civilisation. Also, a true highlight of this production is Tim Mascall’s lighting design. Right from the opening moments, the lighting is epic and this continues throughout the production. These two elements combined to make my jaw drop in the entrance of the parachutist which highlights one of the first darkest moments of the narrative and I truly enjoyed watching the lighting and the set design combine to enhance the narrative. Similarly, I feel that the atmosphere of this production evokes that of Golding’s original novel in Philip Stewart’s sound design. Stewart interestingly combines both the sounds of drumming and atmospheric noises in very interesting places, such as Jack’s first intention to divide the group, with the sounds of howling, shouting and crying by the cast to really bring all of these elements together.

William’s adaption of a more contemporary Simon worked very well and, in combination with Olivia Marcus’ skilfully quiet but active role, this really brought the character to a far more relatable point with the audience. I was also very pleasantly surprised that the production took the plunge and decided to portray Simon as having an anxiety-induced epileptic fit, rather than only a feint as it has been previously portrayed in films. While I cannot speak for the exact accuracy of the movements I do appreciate this decision due to the original vagueness of its presence in the novel and I feel that this aids the relatability of Simon in this production.

I will also say that the end of Act One, Simon’s death, is really the height of the production as the cast, sound, set and lighting design all come together. The moment itself is the best example within this production of the drama and epic features of Golding’s narrative and imagery as the sounds of the cast and practical effects ensure you cannot move your eyes away for a second. After the height of the moment, I love the intricate character moments of Piggy and Roger being the only ones to look at Simon’s body constantly after the act has been done. Following this, however, is one of the highlights of Adaja’s professional debut. The intricate detail of the spotlight on Simon once everyone, except Ralph, leaves as Ralph slowly turns to look at him and begin to sob. I feel that this was a really intricate way to do this scene and I really appreciated it as someone who has and will study the novel.

However, this production does feature significant changes which I, personally, was not a fan of due to the aspects of character and narrative which they changed. The main changes concern Simon, Piggy and Roger. The first is Simon’s scene with the titular Lord of the Flies, a pig’s head from Jack’s earlier hunt. In the novel and the subsequent famous film adaptations, the Lord of the Flies is always a major point of focus and truly a highlight, even if it is, as it is supposed to be, nightmare fuel. In fact, this scene is one of the many which have caused some readers to count this novel as a horror novel. This moment is vital to Simon’s character construction as he has a ‘conversation’ with the head, commonly agreed to be in his head even though commonly presented as two-sided, which foreshadows events and always stands out. However, in this production, this conversation simply blended into the background of the end of Act One. The pig is simply on the ground, rather than on a stick as it usually is, and while there is a small hint at the Lord of the Flies voice the conversation is purely voiced by Simon. While this is interesting there is no mention of the name Lord of Flies or the foreshadowing lines which are vital. The play could have been staging this as only Simon can hear these lines but this just leads to the conversation not being the true highlight of creepiness and narrative that it should have been.

The second is the parachutist. While I loved the entrance and the presentation of the parachutist, it began to distract me in the second act because of a major narrative change. While Simon does find the parachutist as she usually does and her vital lines regarding its humanity are still present they miss the vital point of Simon’s goodness and wish for the preservation of humanity’s goodness in Simon’s untangling and freeing of the parachutist who is then moved away from the island by natural causes. This was a change where I can see why the result of the action does not seem vital but I do not understand the reason for keeping the parachutist on the island when its time in the narrative has ended and the original actions do aid characterisation.

However, the purely biggest change is Piggy’s death. This play does weirdly change the circumstances surrounding Piggy’s death. While her glasses are stolen by Jack they are never broken which is again strange as the breaking of Piggy’s glasses before they are stollen is representative in the novel of the gradual breakdown of law and order. This could have been due to the time constraints as Act Two did feel shorter in terms of narrative but it is something to bear in mind if you are studying The Lord of the Flies. After this, Piggy’s death is not the same as it is in the book. Rather than Roger consciously choosing to release a bolder which kills Piggy by striking him on the head, and breaking the conch in the process, this play instead stages Piggy as being scared by Roger, Maurice and Perceval shouting which leads her to fall from the cliff and the conch in consciously broken by Roger with a rock. Again, while I can see that this form of Piggy’s death is easier to stage it is a curious change which must be made clear to those studying it. Another thing to bear in mind is that Hannah Boyce’s wonderfully creepy Roger is far more vocal than he is in any previous version. While it is nice to get a further insight into one of my favourite mysterious characters some of this vocalisation is badly placed in the tone of the play.

Therefore, overall I’m giving Nigel Williams’ Lord of the Flies ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. While major narrative changes must be kept in mind for those studying the novel alongside this play, this play is an excellent theatrical version of the setting and general points made by Golding’s novel. The set, lighting and sound design of this production is a highlight of practical theatrical effects which allow the wonderful cast to really mould themselves into their characters and the setting. This leads to a really enjoyable experience in watching this cast find their characters and explore the setting while also making the events of the narrative suitably uncomfortable to watch.

Lord of the Flies is running at the Sherman Theatre until the 3rd of November and you can get your tickets here: https://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/performance/theatre/lord-of-the-flies/

Vicky Lord
@Vickylrd4 [Twitter]

Review Chav by Kelly Green, Camdens Peoples Theatre by Tanica Psalmist

Chav is a performed and written by Kelly Green, the play foretells Kelly Green’s internal story from when she was a girl developing in to a woman finding herself and articulating her voice as a lady, who was a single mum who felt disconnected to society and affiliated to labels by judgmental critics in her community.

All photo credits Ali Wright

We see how fate was a gateway for her to escape her pain and permitted an escape for her to willingly explore herself as a PHD student, artist and employee. Her performance cultivates awareness of a captivating society that’s held within a social culture, easily lost and withdrawn from the torment inflicted in to young females, who may also be struggling to adjust to life, fitting into the stereotype of a chav.

Chav is an immersive, sticky and engaging solo play; an autobiographical journey expressing academic discrimination, family complexities, class struggles, judgments, political support, working- class female identity and internal conflicts circulated around growing up in anger from not being taken seriously by the masses. This play is a testimonial in to what middle class individuals’ life can detect growing up feeling detached from home, school and portraying a stereotypical chav in their social life.

Chav is fused with breaking fourth wall elements, projections, hysterical clichés and frustrations, exportation of an exact depiction of the struggle. The audience experiences phases of a rave feel with a depiction of the sentimental feelings and the fabrication of England. This production is enticed with expressions and intimate real life moments and powerful emotions which we can all relate to in spite of our class.

Tanica Psalmist