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REVIEW: THE STORY by TESS BERRY-HART at THE OTHER ROOM by Gareth Ford-Elliott

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Story by Tess Berry-Hart centres around X (Siwan Morris), a person “of the people” returning to their homeland after a year volunteering in “occupied territories”, helping refugees. X is being held under suspicious circumstances by V (Hannah McPake) who, under many different guises, interrogates, questions and advises X.

As much as this is a story about criminalising those who help others – it also explores the violence of language, manipulation of tone and deconstructs the ideas of a story and truth in the world of “justice”. It is this that truly stands out in Tess Berry-Hart’s writing.

There is so much to like about Berry-Hart’s writing. It is technically very strong. The language is brilliant, at times beautiful, at other times horrifying. The slow-burning story is amplified by excellent psychology within the characters.

David Mercatali’s direction is strong. Mercatali deals with the slow-moving story well, pacing the play in a manner that constantly makes the audience think and second-guess. The tone also shifts in an interesting and subtle way.

The acting performances are strong all round. Hannah McPake’s subtle diversity in her different “characters” as V is phenomenal, whilst Siwan Morris’ defiance as X is extremely moving. Luciana Trapman as The Storyteller also does a great job delivering powerful vignettes that are projected onto parts of the set.

Set up with promenade staging, Delyth Evans’ design is simple, yet effective. The long, narrow stage gives a real sense of entrapment that enhances the production. Combining with Katy Morison’s lighting which is mostly understated, but flickers and flashes at key moments. Tic Ashfield’s sound design completes the design elements in a very strong way. Somewhat unnecessarily, but effectively, bringing in glitches on voiceovers to distort the messages we’re hearing. This drives the audience’s curiosity to the mention of “the voice”.

This is potentially subjective, but The Story’s main issue is that it’s not challenging enough. There’s not enough emotion and the lack of a real story with a build really takes away from the potential power of this play. It feels quite safe and relies on an echo chamber for an audience. An audience who already think and feel how the play wants you to think and feel about the messages and themes.

It also doesn’t go deep enough into the topics it tackles. Far from a dystopian world – this is the reality of what we are currently living in. The dystopian feel takes away from that realism.

The disappointment comes from the clear potential of the play. It’s on the verge of being something brilliant, just falling short.

The Story offers a lot to reflect on in its content and enjoy in its production but doesn’t reach its potential through failing to truly challenge its audience.

The Story at The Other Room, Cardiff
8th October – 27th October 2019
Written by Tess Berry-Hart
Directed by David Mercatali
Siwan Morris as X
Hannah McPake as V
Luciana Trapman as The Storyteller
Design by Delyth Evans
Sound Design by Tic Ashfield
Lighting Design by Katy Morison
Video Design by Simon Clode
Assistant Director: Samantha Jones
Stage Manager: Rachel Bell
Production Manager: Rhys Williams
Season Fight Director: Kevin McCurdy
Fight Choreographer: Cristian Cardenas
Choreographer: Deborah Light
Production Photography: Kirsten McTernan
Associate Director: Matthew Holmquist
Casting Director: Nicola Reynolds
BSL Interpreter: Julie Doyle
Set Builder: Will Goad

Review : Lenny Henry in Conversation, Southbank Centre

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Living legend Lenny Henry, of British comedy fame, has released his much-awaited autobiography. And while we may not have yet read it, there are plenty of hints from this event to the comical, the emotional and the poignant life this man has led.

While part of a literature season – something steeped in stereotypes of a middle class, white community, full of seriousness, this night was nothing of the sort.

Lenny Henry, interviewed by another modern-day comedy legend Romesh Ranganathan, provides only snippets to his life, to what is eluded in his book, but the banter between the two is electric – like old friends having a chat, providing us with a ridiculous amount of laughter.

This was not just an evening of talk show-like comedy – between them, these comedians of Black and Asian ethnicity make a real stomp on the reality of modern-day racism and politics, as well as comparing the years in which Henry grew up, which was just as bad, if not worse for discrimination. They make real important points about how things have changed, what was and is not okay in our society and the changes that are important – and to hear this from one of our most famous Black comedians, a man who grew up in a white, northern British world, you cannot help but feel total admiration for him.

Lenny Henry’s book, is, as previously said, much awaited – and I am eager to hear more from this eloquent and impressive man, not only on his world but also on the importance of his opinions, further in writing.


Review: Glass.Kill.Bluebeard.Imp, Caryl Churchill, The Royal Court By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In true Caryl Churchill style, we are introduced to fine writing, which is of a naturalistic ilk yet verges on the unusual, hilarious and subtle in all these attributes.

Seemingly with no other interlink that the same actors, each play is different from one another, with a different concept, it Is a true triumph and evidence of a brilliant playwright that she can make such interesting plays, which last for not long at all.

Glass – Is the story about a girl made of glass, her fragility both physically and emotionally. It is comical, heart-breaking and to a degree, relatable about young love. While made of glass, we think that she is the real person who needs care, but when she meets someone going through a lot worse, it puts in real perspective our own lives and how there are always someone going through worse. A simple staging, the 4 characters are suspended high, in amongst darkness, precariously. And this is all it needs – simplicity and for us to listen to the writing.

Kill – A story about Gods and Murders. Again, a simplistic stage, our God is upon a suspended cloud, smoke emanating across the stage, while the God acts very much unlike a God – smoking and calling out all religious beliefs. He is funny and the writing draws upon our World and beliefs with satire. Opposite to him is a little boy, who integrates the God’s storytelling with comments, increasing in anger, and this all builds to a crescendo. Feeling almost unfinished, but in this respect very well done. We end shocked, and confused but in a good theatrical way.

Bluebeard’s Friends – Easily one of my favourite of the four. Four friends of Bluebeard sit around, slowly getting drunk, as they talk about Bluebeard and his indiscretions, his crimes and how they felt this was hidden. In true Royal Court style, the stage is simplistic – a dinner party, but soon hilarity ensues with the appearance of Bluebeard’s wives bloodied dresses. It’s almost horror-comedy, and the juxtaposition between the normal conversation, to the actual stories of Bluebeard and the appearance of the dresses is something unusual and almost apocalyptic.

Imp – The longest of the four plays. Imp could have been a play in itself. While a great production, it felt a little less impactful as the others. Perhaps this was more theatrically than the writing but none the less, an engaging piece. We meet two middle aged cousins who live together after respective partners either die or divorce them. Their removed niece comes to visit from Dublin, making a life for herself, while being entwined with another guest of theirs who is down on his luck. This is seemingly standard play, with comedy, and drawing upon mental and physical health. This is brought in subtly but very well and relatable. The imp in the bottle however brings the unusual which can be often found in Churchill’s plays. The idea of belief, of whether believing in something enough makes it real, and we see them contemplate this – becoming frightened if it is, scoffing if it isn’t, grieving when it may be lost. And soon we begin to contemplate its reality. What if it is real? We engage so much in how the actors play their feelings.

Glass.Kill.Bluebeard.Imp is a series of brilliant plays. It’s hard to really come away without inspiration and astonishment at Churchill’s writing and combination with The Royal Court – it is very much a match made in heaven.

Lenny Henry in Conversation : Preview By Hannah Goslin

One of the many British Kings of Comedy – I will be attending the Autobiography release and talk by the one and only Sir Lenny Henry at The Southbank Centre.

Notable for his Stand Up, Sketches, and his huge influence in Comic Relief, we will be listening to him, interviewed by British Comedian, Romesh Ranganathan talk about his life in his own words.

With Ranganathan also on stage, it looks to be a night of complete hilarity!

Review to follow!

Lenny Henry in Conversation

SouthBank Centre

30th September 2019

Photo Credit – Jack Lawson

Review : Testament of Yootha, Caroline Burns Cooke

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

If, like me, you don’t really know about Yootha Joyce, then you are in for a treat.

Caroline Burns Cooke brings her whole story, from her birth on Wandsworth common, through Yootha’s fantastic theatrical and sitcom career (and all the personal stuff alongside) to her death and alcoholism at age 53. You do not need to know Yootha to enjoy this intriguing, hilarious character, with a hint of nostalgia and glamour.

Cooke performs as Yootha, and many other character’s through this woman’s life, in what feels like one in take of air. She changes in physical form, from Yootha to an agent, a past husband, all with hilarious quips, foul language and the odd song. It is no argument that she shows what real glamour this woman was.

Cooke is very good at engaging with us – this may be a one woman show, but hell does she keep it this way. She flirts with the audience, agrees with them, ad libs and jumps in between us. She may be storytelling, but we are not just mere witnesses; we are part of the journey.

As engaging as she is, as I said, it does feel like one in-take of breath. Yes, there are emotional parts, that slow down the scene, taking you from laughing at a remark about grubby Clapham Grand, or ‘Crap-Ham Grand’ to the realisation of age and time wasted. But the rest is very fast paced, and at times you feel like you are playing catch up a little with where we are, who Cooke is at that present time and what is going on.

Now, as someone with little knowledge of Yootha Joyce, it could be that she in emulating her personality, and therefore this is very clever. But someone who may not know, it felt a little rushed through, and mostly I wanted Cooke to just take a breath in the room.

Testament of Yootha is a fun, engaging production and a great example of a one woman play – it just needed some time to settle in the room and therefore let us catch up with this woman’s dramatic tale.

Review : The Bacchae, Esmond Road Productions By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Everyone loves a Greek Tragedy – the Ancient Greeks had an amazing way of telling stories, way beyond their time, with comedies, tragedies and so forth, elaborate and convoluted (in a good way!).

The Bacchae, by Euripides is nothing short of this. The story follows Dionysus, who carries out punishment on his Aunt and his cousin, after their continued disbelief in him being the son of Zeus. What entails is a story of deceit, blood and gore, and heartbreak.

Esmond Road Productions have modernised this – Dionysus and his cronies are dressed in neon festival-chic attire, reminiscent of 90’s ravers, notably taking pills and enjoying all life has to offer. His cousin, Pentheus, has taken a more middle class, and political approach, showing stubbornness and false maturity.  These contrasting groups define the war zones and for whom each party is a part of. It is a clear distinction in characters and makes this modern take very interesting.

However, the beginning gets off to a great start – a very emotive Dionysus, who is engaging and with sultry tones to her voice, easy to fall into her storytelling. But this party-rave-drug taking group lack a little in this concept – a moment of them really raving to some techno, or a scene of debauched fun would have solidified this and made their characters a little less passing.

There is a brief lull midway, and at times feels as if this is the part that has a little less work. It’s a shame for this lull, mostly inhabited by normal conversation; it is understandable that this is part of the story but perhaps another take on this would make it more engaging.

It is soon picked up at the end, when we see the tragedy that Dionysus throws upon his cousin and her mother – there is genuine tears, emotion and this is where we are thoroughly engaged – we feel for the characters, we believe their pain and this moment to stop and take this in, pacing the speech and actions, creates a very emotive and thoughtful ending.

The Bacchae is a great idea with its modernisation, featuring some great talent starting the piece and following up at the end, but lacks somewhat in the middle. With this part worked on, this piece could be very engaging all the way through.

Review: Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation, Royal Court / National Theatre Scotland By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

I am going to start off, right off the bat, that it pains me to write a sub-par review of something from The Royal Court. Usually, I cannot come away from RC without being astounded, inspired and creatively shocked. Unfortunately, this just did not happen this time.

Total Immediate Collective […] features the story of a family, when faced with tragedy, separated, with the Father and Daughter embarking on a cult-esque ideal about the world, and the Mother fighting back for her Daughter. There is an essence of many likely groups across the World, from terrorist groups to religious or cultural groups who create imaginative worlds and predict the end, in one way or another. Therefore, it is not a strange tale to believe.

We are asked to sit in a purpose-built circle, with a book to follow the story. The book itself is full of impactful images and text; the images tend to be accompanied by a sound scape, bringing it to life and making it feel recognisable. However, while an interesting concept, the idea of reading along felt school-like, and for me, provided plenty of distractions from the play; from reading, to looking at other audience members, to waiting for the performers to (intentionally) find their place – a lot of pausing, a lot of waiting, a lot of missed action.

This did not exactly take to a good start of introducing us to the book – as part of this cult-ideal, we are told with the word “okay” when we are allowed to read – the Mother at the beginning explains this, however with the natural urge to move on, the performers gave a strange and imposing approach to anyone who defied this – leaving a audience member to sarcastically comment ‘What? Are we in school?” to which the response, maybe not so much in character, was an equally sarcastic “No, you’re in the theatre”. This made us all feel quite uneasy, for both the performer and as audience members, and perhaps tainted the next hour.

The performers themselves are wonderful and obviously very talented, but rather than an impactful piece of theatre, I felt as if we were in a first stage workshop.

I really wanted to like Total Immediate Collective[…]; an unusual concept, interesting writing, well performed; but all these elements just did not gel into a Royal Court standard piece.

Review : Coma, Darkfield By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What would you do, what CAN you do when you can only hear your surroundings but lack the power to help?

Coma by Darkfield, one of their many shipping container immersive experiences, engulfs us in an idea of medically induced coma states, while other frightening and disturbing things happen around us, completely out of our control.

Darkfield are very good at creating experiences that mainly function on the power of persuasion, listening to a narrative and following our own imagination. But equally, what happens in our heads, can be just as disturbing.

In a clinical yet odd style ‘hostel’, we are asked to lie down on 3 tier bunkbeds, encouraged to make ourselves comfortable and to take a little pill – though this is our choice, as we are told taking it or not taking it makes little difference either way.

Plunged into darkness, with our headphones on, we are influenced by commentary, by sounds that sound very near us and at times further way, adding to our imagination of what we already know the room looks like. Like all of Darkfield, there are moments of fear, of climaxes, but to tell you these only destroys what you experience.

My only problem with Coma, is more dependent on the audience member. To really throw yourself into this piece, to feel in a ‘coma’ you need to really engage in a meditative state and give yourself fully to the relaxation in your body to get the full extent of what they are trying to achieve. Unfortunately, for me, while used to meditation, it just didn’t come easily for me this one night and perhaps lead to me missing out on being more immersive that I would be another day.

Coma is equally intriguing, exciting, and scary – go on, be brave, and engage in something you have never experienced before – but fully commit, to come away with something fantastic!

Review: Flight, Darkfield By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

As someone who is scared of flying and therefore takes sleeping pills to get through, this is probably not the best production to see.

Rightfully nervous, with knowledge of Darkfield, experiencing ‘Séance’ at the beginning of the year, my flight fear has gotten better after travelling, but the nerves are still there for this next experience.

I particularly liked how the Steward was very much into the process of Flight – before entering the container, his language was all reminiscent of a host on a flight, stating ‘We are a full flight today so please sit in your allocated seating’

Like any flight, the inside is highly reminiscent of modern planes, but with a hint of the past – small flip down screens above, which are little know these days, playing a video of a hostess, which seems dated. From the beginning, with out headphones on, things are already going wrong – the video flickers, saying chopped and changed, and frightening phrases – we hear the pilot and his conversation we should not hear.

Into the darkness, we hear through our headphones, cleverly positioned to give the sense of encroaching hostess up the aisle. We give into our imagination, and this unordinary flight feels calming, yet we anticipate what happens.

As any Darkfield show, there are moments of shock, of fear, elements of the set change, even now, with me thinking whether I dreamed seeing that or not. They play on our minds; the experience feeling like a dream state, when something disastrous happens, everything becomes normal again – did that really happen?

If you have a fear of flying like me, you are in safe hands with Darkfield, and will come away having such a unique and unordinary experience. If you don’t, well… needless to say you will have equally an interesting and unusual immersive experience. These containers are for all.

Review : Styx, Second Body By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

In the belly of one of London’s newest theatre’s, I experienced one of the most emotional and best nights of my life.

Entering the space, we are welcome to live music, played by a band of 7 – with brass instruments, electric guitars, sound scapes and a drum kit. The set basic, only light bulbs above each person and in the ceiling, and all dressed smartly but shoeless – I cannot tell you how much this minimalist band excited me – something unusual and live!

Styx is a true-life play developed by two of the band members who are siblings – there is a cross over of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice Greek myth and their own grandparents’ lives. It tackles the issues and reality of dementia, of love, of life and ultimately how memory works.

Second Body chop and change, from true recordings of their Grandmother, new and brilliant music composed, written and performed by the band on stage, spoken word and recordings from interviews with the band. While this sounds like a lot, it really works amazingly well. There is a pattern to the performance, and it felt like a dark yet humorous, genuine and unbelievably cool musical. The story is brought to us, from beginning to end, as we get to know their family, their grandparents, but with musical interludes.

Both of these are so genius-ly done that you could happily take them apart from one another and still love every second – but you don’t want to do that. It is so wonderful composed that it is hard not to love every single person, to love their family and to really see their emotion and passion for the piece.

This review feels hard to write – I could gush all day about how phenomenal this piece was. Dementia is something close to me, but even if you have never experienced this, you would have experienced some kind of grief or ending of a story – and so I would defy anyone to come away not feeling tearful, feeling welcomed and honoured in sharing their story and a warmth at how beautifully this performance is.

So enough gushing – I can only see that if you do not see this, you will miss one of the best pieces of theatre I have ever seen. Styx is unlike anything I have ever experienced before, and tantalised every theatrical and personal emotion.