Review: SOLD, Studio (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Immensely powerful and artistically vibrant! A must see!

Co-produced by Kuumba Nia Arts and Unlock the Chains Collective, SOLD is a thrilling and unimaginably skilful blend of storytelling, song, drumming and dance. Taking inspiration from the storytelling traditions of the West African Griot/Jeli, the work does much to comment upon, embrace and explore the Black Experience and what exactly that means. Charting this through slavery suffered in Bermuda and British Caribbean colonies and more specifically through the eyes of slave, author and abolitionist Mary Prince. SOLD thus recounts Mary’s story, from her birth into slavery in Bermuda in 1788, through her various owners and years of suffering, to her arriving in England and writing a history of her life in 1831, beyond this, to her abolitionism, anti-slavery petition and testifying against brutality to her final disappearance from records in 1833.

The work is irrefutably thematic, affecting, strong and beautiful, written this way by writer and performer Amantha Edmead. Proving herself to be an adept and smart playwright, she cleverly situates the narrative within the moment Mary told her story for it to be transcribed for the purpose of being published. Not only allowing for a fast-paced and dynamic plot, as we explore all of Mary’s major life events, but also bringing immense weight to the significance of the book. As this was the first account of the life of a black women, let alone a complete history of a single slave, the book forming a personable record and example of the atrocities being committed across the empire. The ‘History of Mary Prince’ therefore demarcating the first step in Mary’s own abolitionism, a small, but nevertheless mighty step towards the end of anglo-slavery. Demonstrating not just how rare and important it was that she was given a platform, but also as a place marker for the many hundreds of thousands without a voice who she spoke for and the millions she evidently still speaks for.

Euton Daley’s direction and dramaturgy is inspired. Daley drawing from the fast-paced and thematic nature of Edmead’s writing, brings Mary’s story stubbornly to stage. With the help of Vocal Coach and Song Arranger Ayo-Dele Edwards and Choreographer Lati Saka, Daley creates a coruscating and emotive, truly stellar piece of theatre, where storytelling is ingeniously combined with recurring motifs to truly emote and convey the realities of Mary’s suffering, as well as her fleeting moments of joy. From childlike innocence, to her being Sold and torn from her family, to her endless beatings and gruelling work days, right through to her marriage and yearning to be free. There is something so ritual-like and spiritualistic about this methodology, the work allowing us to to really feel Mary’s pain and exults through the playful and domineering drumming, sorrowful and hopeful singing and strong, yet sometimes pained movement sequences. We experience it with her and that right there, is a true art form.

Edmead’s delivery is equally as captivating, not only is she a consummate storyteller, her characterisation is exquisite and her energy, boundless. Edmead effortlessly and instantaneously bringing to life several variegated characters, as well as measuring her physicality and vocal qualities to astutely demonstrate Mary’s changing age. Whilst Angie Amra Anderson is a fantastic musician, she is a wonderfully dexterous and soulful singer and drummer, providing the necessary glue to keep this piece together. Nomi Everall also deserves high praise for her malleable and symbolic set, the ropes and hanging nooses are wonderfully representative of not only the threat of punishment that hung over slaves, but also of their bindings through a lack of freedom, even when they weren’t bound or chained they were still answerable to their masters and ultimately not free.

For us, the question of whether to see SOLD this week at Vault Fest is a no brainer, go! It’s unique, moving and transcendent. ‘To be free is very sweet’. Click here to book now.

 

Director/Co-producer: Euton Daley

Writer/Performer: Amantha Edmead

Drummer/ Performer: Angie ‘Amra’ Anderson

Vocal Coach: Ayo-Dele Edwards

Choreographer: Lati Saka

KNA Co – Producer: John Sailsman

Review: Operation Mincemeat, Southwark Playhouse

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

You’d be mad to miss this in-demand and phenomenally executed, new British Musical. Bolstering a fantastic narrative, invigorating book and explosive score whilst packed, with humour, intelligence, precession, raw emotion and sentiment, this show quite simply has it all!

Based an a real British deception strategy employed during WWII by Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley, Operation Mincemeat tells the story of how they supposedly deceived Hitler, allowing the Allied forces to retake mainland Europe by entering through Sicily. The plan involved obtaining and planting a body off the coast of Spain, with correspondence in a briefcase chained to his wrist suggesting the Allies were planning to invade Sardinia. Knowing that the Spanish were neutral but working with the Germans, the ruse was fallen for and possibly played a part in convincing Hitler to move many of his troops from Sicily. Operation Mincemeat, (named after the operation itself), thus intelligibly and hilariously recounts how the pair proposed and then executed their plan, ‘Making a Man’ by creating the fictitious hero and Captain, ‘Bill’, which involved dressing a homeless man’s body with uniform, ID, receipts and momentos from his ‘fiancee’ to prove his legitimacy.

Presented by SpitLip the production is about to finish a sold out run at the Southwark Playhouse, having already completed a sell out stint at New Diorama last year. However, not to fear, due to popular demand they are returning to the Southwark Playhouse in May for a run in The Large this time and here’s why we think you should catch it…

As we’ve said before, Operation Mincemeat is based on actual events, so part of it’s striking nature, is the notion that it really is surprisingly accurate regarding the known facts of the strategy, (though it does employ some artistic license for the sake of pace, entertainment and gaps in what we actually know). Demonstrating how the initial idea was Cholmondeley’s, fleshed out and rehashed in collaboration with Montagu. The book cleverly drips in more detail such as describing the operation as like a Trojan Horse, not only because the plan was a deception like the Greek’s siege of Troy, but because Cholmondeley originally referred to the idea with the codename Trojan Horse. Whilst there are several (witty and depraving) references to Montagu’s naval career and a detailed staging of the transportation of the body, which was done on a submarine in a canister that prevented Oxygen from getting in. The piece also makes sure to include the key players such as the pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, Bentley Purchase – a coroner tasked with finding a suitable body, Ian Fleming the English author and naval intelligence officer who reported to John Godfrey Director of Naval Intelligence, the British vice-consul Haselden who was stationed in Spain and instructed to let the British know when the body washed ashore, as well as to watch over the autopsy and make it look like the British wanted the ‘important documents’ back, Colonel John Henry ‘Johnny’ Bevan who worked with MI5 and headed up many deception strategies and an American Pilot Willie Watkins who coincidentally crashed in Spain only three days before the body washed up there.

But, not only is Operation Mincemeat a thrilling deep-dive into history, it is also wonderfully self aware. Knowing that many, in fact all of their key characters are white, privileged males who attended schools such as Eton, SpitLip choose to make fun of this fact in their opening number, characterising several of these privileged and esteemed men as fools. They then cleverly proceed to offset this by writing in smart and feisty female characters to represent legitimate (and during this period), silenced female ambition, as well as highlighting how women began working to help win the war in both WWI and II, giving the work an exciting, protofeminist edge, whilst ensuring the piece is endlessly entertaining and comedically vibrant. Snappy sections, chocked full of raucous punchlines and fast moving wit, where for instance, mad-cap ideas are suggested by Ian Fleming, riotously alluding to his later penmanship of the James Bond spy novels, alongside Monatgu envisioning his efforts will land him heroic honours and a film career, a nod to the history he wrote in 1953, The Man Who Never Was, made into a film in 1956 and scenes showing him stealing confidential files from the office, pointing to the spy novel Operation Heartbreak released in 1950 with a plot suspiciously similar to Mincemeat, are contrasted by slower, more sincere and weighted moments. Such as when Bevan’s spinster secretary Hester, (Jak Malone) heartbreakingly sings of a painful lost love as she helps compose a fake love-letter to ‘Bill’, (Dear Bill), truly and beautifully capturing the harrowing reality of war, whilst a female operative is shown to be hungry with ambition and seeks the renown of her male colleagues, agreeing to a series of dates with Montagu and paying him undying attention in the hope this will help her standing.

Needless to say SpitLip’s execution is stellar, they expertly weave caricature and comedy with Brechtian stylised performativity, employing representative costuming and set pieces, adept multi rolling and unequivocal gender blind casting. The onstage changes of persona for instance, are not only masterfully done, but are usually performed quickly and in full view of the audience for comedic and allusion-breaking effect. Resulting in: a whirlwind of eclectically different songs, bold characters and moving set pieces, generating a fast-paced, formidable and engaging piece of musical theatre, that still manages to supply gentle moments of humanity and realism despite its form and comedic content. Moving onto the aforementioned score, it’s phenomenally eclectic nature can be attributed to SpitLip’s use of Leitmotif, a successful methodology used by many much-loved musicals, involving applying musical styles to different characters. For instance, Cholmondeley is designed to be an unlikely hero, nerdy yet likeable, SpitLip give him power ballads to sing to demonstrate his aptitude despite his unassured nature. Bevan dives into Hamilton-esque politicised rap numbers demonstrable of his status, whilst throughlines of feminism are delivered in a fiery Girl band-style pop routine. Fascism comes in the form of Electro-funk dancing Nazis, whilst jazz and disco combine as the men of the tale forget about the blitz to put on the ritz. Finally a sea shanty is delivered by the Lieutenant and officers aboard the submarine as they float ‘Bill’’s body off into the sea, representing  Psalm 39 being supposedly read by Lt. Jewell at the time. The variegated nature of these compositions, as well as the undeniable brilliance of each, makes the music a true highlight, particularly due to the magnificence of the band; Felix Hagan, Ellen O’Reilly and Lewis Jenkins. The trio managing to dynamically accomplish a full and well-rounded sound, capturing with ease each of the chosen styles within the Leitmotif of the score.

Alongside them, the highly skilled cast of five are outstanding. David Cumming, Claire-Marie Hall, Natasha Hodgson, Jak Malone
 and Zoe Roberts can only be described as bounding balls of energy as they flit on, off and around the stage conveying such a wide-range of complex and uniquely different characters. All five displaying tremendous vocal tenacity and comedic intelligence. As previously mentioned, Malone’s Hester is a highlight, his delivery of ‘Dear Bill’ is monumentally emotive and raw, undoubtedly bringing a tear to many. Whilst Hall has a particularly beautiful and powerful voice, as well as a likeable and warming performance style. Alongside them, Hodgson and Cumming are endlessly energetic and stylised actors. Whilst Roberts, is similarly dynamic and sharp, she is also a remarkably malleable performer.

Regarding the design, as previously mentioned Helen Coyston’s work is wonderfully representative and includes several moving set pieces, these are cabinet draws for holding operation files in, that are pushed together to form tables, chairs, the submarine, Coroner Purchase’s morgue, raised platforms for the actors to stand on etc. The draws also hold key props, making them easily accessible and cleverly brought into the action. Not only does this allow for the fast-pace of the piece, moving from setting to setting, across Europe and back, it also constitutes the secrecy of the operation and highlights the arrogant characterisation of Montagu as he tries and succeeds in taking files from the office for his own gains. Brightly coloured telephones brighten-up and litter the backdrop of the playing space, also hanging above the actor’s heads, this does a marvellous and unassuming job in referencing the complications of communication during wartime, from the codebreaking at Bletchley letting Montagu and Cholmondeley know the ruse had been fallen for, to their correspondence with Haselden at his post in Spain and the manipulations of the German spy network both at home and abroad.

All in all, Operation Mincemeat is a triumph and should take its place amongst other great historically perceptive and hyped-up musicals such Hamilton and SIX. Click here to book now for the Southwark Playhouse in May.

 
Creative Team:

Writers/Composers – SpitLip
SpitLip are – David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson & Zoe Roberts
Choreography – Jenny Arnold
Set and Costume Design – Helen Coyston
Lighting Design – Sherry Coenen
Sound Design – Dan Balfour
Additional Casting – Pearson Casting
Publicity Artwork – Guy Sanders
Production Manager – Rich Irvine
Stage Manager – Roisin Symes

 

Cast:

David Cumming
, Claire-Marie Hall, 
Natasha Hodgson, 
Jak Malone and 
Zoe Roberts

 

Band:

Felix Hagan
, Ellen O’Reilly and 
Lewis Jenkins

Review: Bored of Knives, White Bear Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

A bold and dynamic piece of new writing with plenty of grit to get your teeth into.

Written by Kitty Fox Davis and Megan Louise Wilson, Bored of Knives is a witty, affecting and truly intriguing debut piece from new theatre company FlawState. Performed precociously by Kitty Fox Davis and Molly Chesworth, the work explores the complexities of female friendships through the lense of two long lost school friends, 1 & 2. Set in their preserved childhood den at 1’s parent’s house, we are left wondering what event separated the two of them in secondary school and subsequently, what tragedy has caused 2 to return to the den in order to try and reconnect with 1. The writing itself, is a clever and wonderfully intricate trail of breadcrumbs, the pair allude to something that caused them to be separated during their school years, (with 2 having been sent to another school and 1 told to let her be), but we do not find out exactly what happened. The smatterings of references to this event, with the women finally telling each other how it made them feel and their perspectives on it, mean FlawState carefully reel their audience into the pair’s story, engaging and engendering a desire to find out more. This also wonderfully capitulates the commonalities and difficulties in maintaining female friendships in adulthood, as well as the need for sisterhood amongst women in order to get them through the tough times.

The idea of the den as the setting is so beautifully thematic. Not only does the den signify the women’s youthful dreams, it also forms a place of safety from the outside world as well as representing innocence and the loss of it. The den enacts as a time capsule, it has been preserved over the years by 1. Due to incapacitating anxiety, she finds it difficult to live in the outside world and thus spends most of her time in the sanctity of the den instead of working or socialising. By keeping it just as it’s always been, she has forced herself to stay stuck in the past with it, encapsulating herself in the time capsule. The den, thus signifying her innocence and isolation. Throughout the evening as the two women learn more about each other the den gets messier and messier, a wonderful foreshadowing of the fact their dreams will be broken, 1’s innocence gone and their future together extinguished. 1 is also shown to want to keep tidying up, demonstrating her resistance to moving forward. Kurtis Lowe’s sensational sound design woven throughout and thus breaking up the narrative, allows for not only a fast paced piece, but is a phenomenally executed, foreboding to the later revealed tragedy. Whilst Gino Santos’ creation of the den, (combined with Louis Caro’s lighting design), is marvellously labyrinthine, Santos forcing us to feel as if we are really looking into a childhood dream. Making 1 and 2’s world compellingly tangible.

The conversations broached by this piece are not only affecting, they are also exceedingly important. Wilson and Davis compassionately, truthfully, and often facetiously touch on topics such as sex and relationships, mental health and anxiety, abuse and betrayal. Causing their work to be relevant, relatable and wholeheartedly realistic, the extensive research and development phases explained in their programme notes certainly pay off. Whilst Tom Ryder’s direction is exquisite. Bored of Knives is a devastating exposé on hopes and dreams, whilst 1 is trying desperately to stay exactly how and where she is in her life, 2 is searching for a future and an escape. This pushing and pulling of alternative desires is intriguingly brought to the forefront in Ryder’s vision. Whilst 1 tidies around 2, desperate to keep things as they are, 2 mentions what would happen if she were to have a hen do and subsequently dresses up in a white dress, a subtle signifier of her future aspirations even if they are out of her reach. Ryder also includes joyful sections where the pair act like kids, their friendship seemingly mending itself as they revert back to their childhood and adolescence by wearing wigs, dressing up, singing, playing games, eating snacks and drinking, excellently contrasted by the darkness of Lowe’s sound design often abruptly tail-ending these motifs. It is these jovial moments that make the overall tragedy and betrayal so powerfully severe. Kitty Fox Davis’ meek and righteous 1, riddled with insecurities and an ingrained desire to stay where she is, is an absolute delight. Davis is comically gifted, providing both a layered and warm delivery. Whilst Molly Chesworth’s hardened 2 is remarkably spirited and tenacious, Chesworth dextrously from the off, gives the impression 2’s mind is in two places at once and thunders through the piece with some unshakeably powerful acting. Both are simply stunning performers with exceptional chemistry.

FlawState are clearly making waves and have a bright future, to find out more about them click here. Or to catch Bored of Knives (TODAY 14/12/19), click here.

 

1 – Kitty Fox Davis

2 – Molly Chesworth

Voiceovers – Max Gell, Clive Marlowe, Adam Elliott and Viv Keene

Writers – Megan Louise Wilson & Kitty Fox Davis

Director – Tom Ryder

Producer – Kurtis Lowe

Associate Producer – Kitty Fox Davis

Media & Marketing – Megan Louise Wilson

Set Design – Gino Santos

Sound Design – Kurtis Lowe

Lighting Design – Louis Caro

Review: Maisie, The Bread & Roses Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Written and produced by Roger Goldsmith, Maisie is an emotionally penetrating, hard-hitting, must-see exegesis on grief, mental health and humanity from the male perspective.

Taking a charming look at the landscape of fatherhood regarding custody, divorce and parental separation, before buckling into a cataclysmic emotional rollercoaster, touching on suicide and psychological stability, Maisie is an incredibly powerful, full-circle, one-man show that is both affectingly and outstandingly delivered. Dan, having split up from his wife Mandy is constantly made to feel sub-standard, with Mandy showing off her new boyfriends in front of him and demanding things from him left, right and centre, but after it all, he still has his daughter Maisie. On this day, Dan is taking her to central London for a day out, her smile seems to paper over the cracks, but by the end of the trip his world is crumbling around him. With intelligible and complex direction from Gwenan Bain, Steven Blacker is a smart, enigmatic and captivating performer, bringing at tear to the eye in his poignant and endearing delivery of a dad who dotes on his daughter. His performance wondrously introduces us to several characters, particularly to Maisie herself, as he voices her playfulness we are left to imagine a bubbly six year old pulling on his sleeve. With that in mind, Blacker exhibits sensational characterisation and storytelling abilities, navigating us at an engaging and fast-pace through the crossing timelines of his retellings, dwelling on moments of disaster and delight in perfect measure.

Goldsmith’s writing of this 45 minute, epic monologue is searingly raw and impassioned, the personable feel to it allows Goldsmith to paint Dan as a universal father figure. We empathise and actually feel his glistening adoration for Maisie, as well as the bitter taste left from his divorce, (a pain he mostly hides for Maisie’s sake, particularly in response to the petty nature of his ex-wife Mandy) and then the loss in his eyes as sadness clouds his vision and he becomes a shell of a man, grief almost physically crippling him. Blacker stormingly conveys this all with his energetic characterisations, knowing looks, heavy sighs, void-like silences and held eye-contact with his audience. Bain has done a phenomenal job of building into her direction these held moments of mournful silence and contrasting motifs in which Blacker envisages and projects Maisie for his audience. The writing beautifully and symbolically coming full circle as Dan finally tells Maisie how tall Nelson’s column is, after earlier recounting how she once asked him that very question and he promised to find out. The design and direction effortlessly mimics and reflects this as Dan begins by stripping the set of most of its tools, paints and sheeting, (a reference to his job), showing that beneath it all, he is just a man, a father. Grief incapacitates him, forcing Dan to put down his tools completely, we only see him picking up the tools again once he’s financially forced back to the job and truly seems to have worked through much of his hurting. What’s underneath the sheets, paints and tools is new, signifying that he’s coming out the other end to a fresh beginning. This is all embellished by a superbly intricate sound design.

What’s so powerful and intriguing about Maisie, is the emphasis on the male perspective regarding parenthood, we do so often see from a female angle and do not necessarily delve much into what it must be like only seeing your child on weekends and not feeling as if you are bringing them up by living with them 24/7. Coinciding with some Herculean explorations into human kindness and mental health, Maisie also provides a complex divergence into the nature of thought processes and the many avenues the brain can take when in shock or grieving. Staging these particularly well.

To conclude Blacker seizes the innumerable challenge of this show, he delivers not just a story with a duplicity of characters, but a true rollercoaster of emotions from start to finish. Bain, in her direction, proves herself to be a true artist, carefully crafting the balance of Dan’s story, making sure each joyful or plaintive moment expertly lands. Whilst Goldsmith writes such a rhythmic, realistic and relatable story, that’s engaging and emotional from the offset. We hugely recommend this pocket-sized powerful piece. Maisie runs at The Bread and Roses Theatre until Saturday 8th Dec, click here to book now.

 

Goldsmith Productions co-produced by Stage Splinters
Performed by Steven Blacker
Directed by Gwenan Bain
Written by Roger Goldsmith
Technician Jordan Moffat

Review: The Boy in the Dress, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, (RSC)

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Martini rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

An irreverently funny and astonishingly executed stage adaptation of a story of an ordinary boy who dares to be different. Resulting in a wholeheartedly entertaining and severely meaningful evening of fun – promoting positive change and tackling gender stereotypes.

Produced in-house by the RSC like Matilda the Musical, The Boy in the Dress is a hilarious, quintessentially British, comedy-musical, with an effervescent score, endlessly flashy choreography, sensational performances and a heartwarming message at its core. Adapted from David Walliams’ smash-hit book of the same name, the narrative follows Dennis, a seemingly ordinary 12 year old boy, who is the school’s star striker and loves football. But when his Mum walks out on his Dad, Dennis struggles without a female presence in his life. The only reminder he has of his Mum is a photo of her at the beach in a yellow dress, he sees a similar dress on the cover of Vogue in Raj’s newsagents and buys it. Before befriending the most beautiful and coolest girl in school, Lisa James, who is into designing her own dresses, the two thus form a bond over fashion and couture. What ensues is a witty exploration of Dennis discovering it is okay to be different and to be into both football and fashion. Though, after breaking the school uniform code with the help of his alter-ego, french exchange student ‘Denise’, he does have a few run ins with headmaster Mr. Hawtrey. With all new songs from Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers, a script by former RSC playwright in residence Mark Ravenhill and direction from RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran, The Boy in the Dress is brought glitteringly to the stage.

The RSC have done a wonderful job in place making their entire theatre space for the occasion. All ages can play on the football tables in the bar areas, or draw on one of the school blackboards. There’s a Boy in the Dress themed Christmas tree, made out of sign posts relating to Dennis and his life, with Dennis in a dress adorning the top of it, whilst the costume exhibition has been disco-diva-fied and a telephone box outside is now filled to the brim with footballs. It’s the extra-special touches that really do count when it comes to a family show, enriching young theatre-goer’s experiences from the ground up. Aside from this, the production’s design itself is exquisite. Dennis lives in a supposedly ordinary town in an ordinary house, so the piece opens with a greyscale backdrop of ‘ordinary houses’. Throughout the first song ‘Ordinary’, the town’s inhabitants in greyscale costumes wheel out grey houses, appearing and moving in a uniform fashion. These houses beautifully and intricately fold out to create the various set pieces and locations such as Dennis’ room and bed, as well as his family kitchen, achieved with acute attention to detail. Eventually we start seeing splashes of colour in the ensemble costuming, firstly with an all pink colour scheme and then each town inhabitant starts to divert from the ‘uniformed’ scheme, until all ensemble members look totally unique, demonstrating the show’s thematic of individuality. Though we all seem ordinary, there is no such thing as ordinary, we are all extraordinary and unique. (This idea of non-uniformality tying in wonderfully with idea of Dennis going against the uniform code and the later change of his football kit to a dress).

To tackle the challenge of bringing football and the unpredictability of it to live theatre, the creatives have superlatively built puppetry and physical theatre into the work, (particularly Puppetry Director Laura Cubitt). The balls are often attached to sticks and moved around by a puppeteer/player, whilst physical theatre lifts are used at poignant match moments to highlight the intensity and importance of the action. With goal posts hydrologically appearing from the floor. Oddbod, the cheeky, charming and absolutely adorable dog owned by Dennis’ best-friend Darvesh, springs to life as a puppet, handled brilliantly by Ben Thompson. His delivery is full of realism and comedy, remaining captivating and a favourite with kids and adults alike.

In this age of ‘Cheer up Charlie’ (a national campaign that saw several West-End musicals welcome Charlie, a nine year old boy who was being homophobically bullied, into their theatres in a bid to make him feel better and let him know that being a boy and being into musical theatre is cool), it’s great to see so many men on stage in a musical and, most importantly, in prominent parts. Of the four child leads on each night, three are male, (ten in total), showing any young boys in the audience that they too could be on stage, acting, singing and dancing if they wanted to. Which brings us onto the wonderful positive messages to promote positive change woven into this piece. As aforementioned there are many males in prominent parts, particularly Dennis, his older brother John and their Dad, (Rufus Hound). This trio of men and no Mum, fantastically pushes to the forefront single parenthood from a male perspective. The three displaying phenomenal chemistry, Dennis being played on this evening by Toby Mocrei and John by Alfie Jukes. Hound, dextrously displaying heart-breaking moments of vulnerability in contrast with trying to present a strong vizard for his sons, as that’s ‘what men are supposed to do’. This, and the moment where Dennis misses his Mum and breaks down in tears and is subsequently told to stop crying ‘because boys don’t cry’, marvellously demonstrates the ultimately damaging effects of toxic masculinity. Gender stereotypes like this are therefore prodigiously shattered throughout. Boys can cry, boys can wear dresses and boys can dance and sing if they want to, what wonderful messages to be delivering to children today, alongside themes of persistence/never giving up and teamwork. This doesn’t mean that girls are left out though, there’s a whole number about girl-power and independence delivered by the ‘cool girls’, when considering if Dennis, (Denise) can join their crew. It is also worth mentioning that this production is big on diversity, with a diverse cast/ensemble. Characters such as Raj, Darvesh and Darvesh’s Mum as well as an overall plethora of accents/ethnic backgrounds, result in a more apt than most snapshot of multiculturalism in Britain.

As this piece is also being created with a young cast, at the RSC and and through in a similar methodology to Matilda , it is inevitable that the work shares similarities with its predecessor. It is Forbes Masson’s Mr. Hawtrey, a kid-hating and ebullient headmaster that gives off serious Matilda vibes, Hawtrey manifesting as a caricatured, Trunchbull-esque, paraodorical character. Whilst the idea of a boy in a dress, provides endless similarities to both Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and and Billy Elliot, touching lightly and innocently on the Queer and LGBTQ+ community. Yet The Boy in the Dress cannot be dismissed on grounds of unoriginality, the work feels endlessly modern and fresh and the school kids even ‘hit the woah’ during one of songs, (ask your kids). It is Mark Ravenhill’s sharp and witty book combined with Aletta Collins’ bold and reactive, modern choreography that allows the show to jump vibrantly off the pages of David Walliams’ book. Both are masterful at their crafts, Collins’ choreography is complex, sharp and endlessly entertaining, whilst Ravenhill captures Walliams’ intended hilarity and heart down to a t. The score by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers is likewise, particularly revolutionary. The music is a powerful and catchy, eclectic mix with divine harmonies, powerful ballads, and largely lively ensemble numbers that are all intoxicatingly delivered, the show presenting a wonderful homage to disco at the end of act one.

As far as performances go, it is the child stars that carry this show. The youngsters we saw, Toby Mocrei, (Dennis), Tabitha Knowles, (Lisa) and Ethan Dattani, (Darvesh) have incredible presence, Mocrei and Knowles’ voices excel, they are each emotive and exceedingly powerful actors with an immense grasp of their craft, demonstrating wondrous consistency and clarity. Alongside them, teenager Alfie Jukes (Dennis’ brother John), has an equally as sensational and tragically underused voice, due to his self-assured delivery, Jukes asserts himself as certainly one to watch. As aforementioned Hound is a wonderfully dexterous actor, with the voice to back it up, the complexities of his delivery conveys the pains and anxieties of single parenthood fantastically. Whilst Irvine Iqbal, (Raj), Natasha Lewis, (Darvesh’s Mum), Charlotte Wakefield, (Miss Windsor) and Forbes Masson, (Mr. Hawtrey) carry the comedy, they are each exuberant performers, displaying unimaginable comedic timing and again, more than adequate voices. Furthermore the malleability and strength of the ensemble as a whole, ensures this production is sharp, witty, fast-past and of course, hugely entertaining. The benchmark for the calibre of the performances set by the young actors, is certainly met by this talented and hardworking ensemble supporting them.

To conclude, The Boy in the Dress is a must see, new British musical with a serious amount of heart and we are dying to see it get a much deserved London transfer. To catch it in Stratford-Upon-Avon click here.

 

Rufus Hound – Dennis’ dad
Irvine Iqbal – Raj
Natasha Lewis – Darvesh’s mum
Forbes Masson – Mr Hawtrey, the headmaster from Dennis’ school,
Charlotte Wakefield – Miss Windsor.
Dennis – Oliver Crouch, Jackson Laing, Tom Lomas and Toby Mocrei.
Darvesh – Ethan Dattani, Shivain Kara-Patel, Kassian Shae Ahktar and Arjun Singh Khakh.
Lisa James – Asha Banks, Tabitha Knowles and Miriam Nyarko
John – Alfie Jukes and Zachary Loonie
Other cast includes: David Birch (Maudlin Street Captain), Hannah Fairclough (ensemble), Max Gill (Big Mac), Ahmed Hamad (ensemble), Ryan Heenan (Rory), Charlotte Jaconelli (Lorna), Alim Jayda (ensemble), Christina Modestou (Miss Bresslaw), Alexander Moneypenny (Gareth), Clancy Ryan (ensemble), Cilla Silvia (ensemble), Jack Anthony Smart (Swing), Ben Thompson (Oddbod), Jamie Tyler (St Kenneth’s Captain), Georgie Westall (Swing), Grace Wylde (Louise).
From the novel by David Walliams
Adapted by Mark Ravenhill
Music and lyrics by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers
Directed by Gregory Doran
Robert Jones (Designer), Aletta Collins (Choreographer), Mark Henderson (Lighting), Guy Chambers and Tom Deering (Orchestrators), Bruce O’Neil (Musical Supervisor and Arrangements), Alan Williams (Musical Director and Arrangements), Paul Groothuis and Tom Marshall (Sound), Laura Cubitt (Puppetry Director) and Pippa Hill (Dramaturg).

Review: Generation Whyyy?, London Tour

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

A smart, up-to-date and satirical sketch-comedy that wouldn’t seem out of place on prime time television.

Presented by the hilarious, Irish, female, comedy group Meela Goola, Generation Whyyy? is a fast-paced, witty and episodic sketch comedy navigating and capturing the trials and tribulations (or ‘first world problems’), encountered by many in Generation Y. Seizing hold of millennial fever, the trio wondrously take us on a madcap and intelligible adventure through the absurd and the intrinsically relatable. Delivering vibrant and rich snapshots of the difficulties and inanity of the ‘snowflake’ generation, these effortlessly weave together, the piece esoterically enveloping several recurring themes and plot lines. Resulting in a polished, sapient and side-splitting, high brow commentary on millennial culture. From those worrying about their follower counts and willing to do anything to grow them, to the phenomenon of reality tv, going viral and #influencers doing #ads that are totally genuine, to indie/gourmet food pop ups with their over complicated menus, the plain of online dating, (whether that be for those in their flirty thirties or the grannies amongst us), to modern day parenting, passive responses to the climate emergency and everything in between, Meela Goola successfully take a satirical survey of several nonsensical traits prevalent in the millennial populous, giving their audience plenty of food for thought and barrels of laughs.

Made up of comedians Sorcha Dawson, Laura Prendergast and Amy Kellett, the company are exceedingly talented writers, directors and caricaturists, creating a plethora of variegated and comedically rich characters drawn from their Irish background and beyond. These caricatures are thus wonderfully detailed and complex bouncing well off of each other. As aforementioned, the form includes recurring characters and motifs within several vignettes, the combined vignettes thus building towards the overarching commentary on today’s culture, enacting much like popular precursors such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Saturday Night Live, a testament to the trio’s conviction and high-quality content. It is their comedic intelligence and relevancy that makes the work feel so incredibly fresh and daring. Whilst the potency of the comedy ensures the evening is wholeheartedly enjoyable from start to finish. The technical aspects, as well as the short and snappy nature of the vignettes, also do much for the enjoyability factor, these ensure the piece is fast-paced and engaging. A quick lights up and down with several well-placed sound bites, propels us rip-roaringly from vignette to vignette. Whilst the representative and malleable props and costume used, help to instantaneously create the spectrum of characters. Meaning Dawson, Prendergast and Kellett are masters of their craft, with an innumerable awarity of their audience asserting themselves as certainly ones to watch out for in the future.

Catch Meela Goola and their show Generation Whyyy? on the remainder of their London Tour, at Barons Court Theatre 11th & 12th December. Or in Dublin closer to Christmas. To find out about future shows and to keep up to date with Meela Goola, follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter by clicking the links.

Review: Pests, Drayton Arms Theatre

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Martini Rating:
🍸🍸🍸🍸

Brilliantly acted, intelligibly designed and intuitively directed, Pests is an absolute treat.

Presented by brand new theatre company One Night Stand Theatre, Pests written by Vivienne Franzmann is a gritty and devastating snapshot of impoverished Britain. Providing a powerful and unfortunately authentic elucidation on the realities of substance abuse, rape, abuse, miscarriage and mental illness. The company are also donating all proceeds to ‘Women in Prison’, click here for more information on the charity.

Originally commissioned by Clean Break, (the critically acclaimed theatre company known for working with female-identifying ex-convicts or those at risk of breaking the law), Pests follows two tragically underprivileged sisters, Pink and Rolly. The pair, having been born to an addict mother and abusive father, grew up in the care system. As adults they have become heroin addicts and live in squalor. Rolly is pregnant and has recently spent time in prison, whilst Pink provides sexual favours to men for money and clearly suffers with trauma and mental illness. Both are undereducated and have prevalent literacy issues, leaving them with very little life prospects. Since Rolly previously spent four years with a foster family whist her older sister Pink, was left in a care home to be brutally abused by men, a deep seated jealousy has festered inside Pink, a jealously that wonderfully manifests itself throughout the play. As a constant, Pink and Rolly’s lives seemingly revolve around violence, unemployment and poverty, Rolly wants something more, but Pink selfishly wants to keep them both together as they are. Therefore Pests boldly tackles the failings of society regarding those that are vulnerable and/or living below the poverty line.

Franzmann’s writing is strikingly fresh, she litters her work with pop-culture references, visual motifs and her own approach to language that both engenders the common, undereducated nature of the sisters, whilst demonstrating a witty and clever edge, to show that though they both haven’t received the best education they aren’t dumb, humorously hiding complex words throughout. One Night Stand Theatre thus, in the direction and design wonderfully play with these conceptualisations to draw out the meaningful nature of Franzmann’s writing, making their work feel very fresh, vibrant and of the now, as well as asserting it as funny, heartbreaking and real. The design truly brings us into the squalor, a sofa and stained mattress are just about distinguishable above the mountains of newspaper and rubbish. The text making many references to homes as nests and birds as well as cats, whiskers and pups. The scattered newspaper in their home therefore beautifully creates nest-like surroundings. The two sisters are birds and this nest is all they have, it’s as if they are waiting for society, the cat, to destroy them, one sister Rolly wants to leave the nest, hence why she pursues a cleaning job miles away and we see her trying to clean the mess. One Night Stand Theatre therefore deliver simply stunning visualisations of this recurring motif. Whilst the TV set and radio combine with the excellence of the sound design, to perpetuate the pop-culture references in the text, locating the work in the now or recent past. Furthermore, the lighting and sound design are masterful, the reactivity in this leaves a powerful and astonishing delivery of the internalisations of the sisters, particularly Pink, we live her reminisces of past abuse with her, bookended with lighting flashes or changes. As well as understand her bouts of paranoia and confusion due to the state of her mental health and addictions. These sections of internalised anguish and movement do much to keep a fast pace as much as they strongly emote the piece. There are however moments of total black out where the actors are clearly still delivering scenes and it would be nice to see their faces in these moments. Nevertheless, the design excels and is incredibly perceptive to the script.

Just as Ross Barbour’s direction is phenomenal, he brings to life the realities of poverty in such a delicately crafted and intuitive manner, he is able to draw out and build the necessary raw emotion with power and conviction, whilst leaving room for the moments of wit and humour to land. Barbour wonderfully building the visual motifs provided by Franzmann into his version of the piece, particularly The Wizard of Oz theme. As stated Pink and Rolly loved The Wizard of Oz as kids, Pink continuously sings the song ‘If I Only Had…’ and encourages Rolly to join in. In her states of instability the song recurs and is echoed in the sound design, it catatonically both anchors her in that frantic moment and in the sound, demonstrates just how unstable ishe is. Additionally Rolly is learning to read and has been taught by a friend, we see her copy of The Wizard of Oz which she stashes and reads allowed, as well as see the ruby red slippers Pink buys for Rolly and obsessively wills her to wear. These moments are delivered with poignancy and wonderful thematic emphasis. Regarding performances, both Caroline Maitland and Megan Macey are captivating. Maitland delivers the boisterous, jealous and sporadic Pink with efficacy and power, her emotivity and drive are sensational, though we witness the character making mistakes Maitland delivers Pink with some much depth that she makes us want to empathise with her and right all of the wrongs in her life. Whilst Macey’s Rolly in contrast, is wonderfully youthful and hopeful, Macey playing her with a certain charm and innocence, again engendering the audience to will her to find something better. Macey like Maitland is exceedingly emotive and delivers the more poignant scenes with tenacity and maturity. Both are simply stunning performers with great presence and chemistry.

To conclude Pests displays greatness in every aspect, a wonderful opening piece for One Night Stand Theatre. Find them on Twitter and Instagram @onstheatre. Pests runs at the Drayton Arms Theatre until Saturday 9th November, click here to book now.

 

Caroline Maitland – Pink

Megan Macey – Rolly


Ross Barbour – Writer

Writer – Vivienne Franzmann

Caroline Barton – Producer

Gabi Coomber – Tech

Raniah Al-Sayed – Movement

Bradley Leech – Fight