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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
A philosophical play – what happens when your whole word beliefs are shattered? Who are you? What has or is your life about? Rabbits in the Precambrian tackles this thought with comedy, contemplation and interesting character development.
Wrong Shoe Theatre Company, fresh from Royal Holloway
University and The Front Room Croydon’s resident artists bring the story of a
group of people contemplating life and existence, with the help of a con artist
Guru. It features slapstick, clever writing and a conclusive ending tying up
all loose ends.
We see the differences in relationships, with the writing
allowing the characters to contemplate their own worlds and interests –
everyone has as big a role as the next, hitting areas not unlike a sitcom as
they interweave into one another’s stories and lives.
The actors themselves do well to create their own in-depth character
– two married couples, both with a lecturer half and the other a little unusual
in their interests – they compliment each other but at times it feels a little
like the males are very similar and the females are just the annoyed wives.
Perhaps a reversal in roles could make this more interesting and balanced in
the controversy of gender roles in today’s theatre.
There is a balance of slapstick humour and then philosophical
discussion – both being very well done, it felt like the two still needed to
gel a little more, crossing over into one another to compliment the unusual
Particularly the character of Reed, played by Liam Crocker,
was excellent. He struck the right balance of hilarity to rationale – when finding
out that his life’s beliefs are disproved, his downward spiral is believable,
but his character is quick witted, comical and we relate to him and his disbelief
of the unusual events. Moments of monologue are directed to each of us, and we
feel included, the fourth wall breaking down, and it creates a nice moment
between us and the character.
The Guru, while part of the main plot, is also a great comic
relief. Think middle class, hipster kid, meets spiritualist. She strikes the
right vocal notes for this character, making her wistful and flakey but at the
same time a believable con artist.
The ending felt like a little work was needed – as a theatre
creator and at times writer, ending a piece is always quite difficult and I get
that once all the questions are answered, it is sometimes at a loss on how to
do this; and this is what it felt like was a minor struggle at the end. While
the final note hit the nail on the head, a little work on how to get there
could absolutely solidify this ending.
Rabbits in the Precambrian is full of fun, comedy and rational thinking – A play definitely worth seeing and to keep an eye on through development.
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