Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (2020 Edition)

NEWS: Full Casting for Regent's Park Open Air Theatre's Jesus ...
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

As the electrifying overture comes to a close, performers from the casts of four different incarnations of this Olivier and Evening-Standard Award-Winning revival of Tim Rice‘s and Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s Jesus Christ Superstar, enter the playing space. They gaze out at the reduced capacity audience of 390 people and simultaneously, they remove their face masks. In response, the audience unapologetically bursts into enthusiastic applause. This cathartic moment, is not only bold and emotional, a symbolic assurance of the return of live theatre, but it fits perfectly into the stylistic choices of this revival. Meaning, much of the unique, fervid nature of the original Open Air production remains. In-fact it is difficult to call this staging, as advertised, a concert version as it is never stagnant and is so complexly thought-through, designed, directed and performed.

As in the previous manifestations, the work still employs a beautifully Brechtian-esque, representative quality, full of nuances and intricacies for the audience to discover for themselves. This aforementioned quality, starts in the moment of unmasking, a visual indicator of this company of actors being given permission to actually perform a musical outdoors and from there it just keeps going. A few of these ‘representative’ directorial and design moments, that we were particularly mesmerised by include: Pontius Pilate (David Thaxton)’s consistent use of a corded mic, doubly demonstrable of his role as a Roman Official, through which he is tied to Rome and the Emperor with no real power of his own and also of Jesus (Declan Bennett)’s condemnation of this lack of power, insisting that the decisions have already been made, making Pilate more of a mouthpiece than an official. Pilate also, at points, wields a mic stand with a marble likeness of the Emperor Augustus on it, whilst the Roman guard wear tabards displaying the same printed likeness. Similarly, Mary (Anoushka Lucas), is one of the few characters to be dressed in white, despite the fact that she is slandered by Judas (Tyrone Huntley), as a sinful women, whilst there are further suggestions of her promiscuity throughout. The costuming, therefore suggests a deeper purity, Mary often being remembered in the gospels as one of the few apostles to truly understand Jesus’ teachings, here she is a stark comparison to Judas’ extreme hero-complex that is to an extent, both ignorant of self-care and selfish. Both characters, whether positively or negatively, are demonstrably driven by a love of Jesus, each engendering a tenderness towards the character in their respective renditions of the iconic I Don’t Know How To Love Him. Furthermore, the production still includes Judas’ iconic silver (blood stained) hands (featuring on much of the prior marketing material). Once Judas sells-out Jesus to Caiaphas (Ivan De Freitas) and Annas (Nathan Amzi), promising to give them a location they can find Jesus alone. He is paid in silver pieces, though he protests against taking the blood money he is coerced, dipping his hands into the silver chest, silver stains them, this is both representative of the transaction of silver. and the blood now on his hands, the burden of which ultimately causes his down fall. A blue flare is also set off at the beginning of Simon Zealotes demonstrable of the crowds becoming out of hand, as Judas suggests in his reasoning for turning Jesus in.

There is also a fantastic nod to Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, during the song of the same name, as they break bread and drink wine, the apostles adorn robes of different colours capturing the visual idiosyncrasy of Da Vinci’s masterpiece. Similarly during The Temple, the company, become representative of the structure itself, forming a rectangle that fills the stage, the actors uniformly signifying the temple’s colonnade of columns. Following this, an onslaught of lepers plead with Jesus to heal them, (in order to avoid a close proximity of the actors to each-other, as they would usually converge on him), a creative decision sees them instead, fill the playing space, leaving Jesus stuck on a narrow rostra upstage, he is still therefore, visually trapped. Furthermore, the rock-opera, which is sung through, has a dazzlingly, energetic score filled with soul, rock and gospel sound influences, therefore, this musical semblance is also woven into the visual delivery, not only is most of the band visible throughout, but the piece employs a sprinkling of actor-musicianship, with the company using guitars and tambourines, corded mics and mic stands, a pair of claves are even used to create the sound of the 40 lashings received by Jesus at Pilate’s request. At the climax of Judas’ Death, Judas pulls the cord out of the mic to symbolise his own demise, whilst Jesus is shown to be crucified on his own mic stand, a death the character begrudgingly chooses for himself, the stand becoming a signal for his own agency here. Whilst in Superstar, the company wear choir-style gowns as a nod to the song’s gospel sound. There is only one true and exceedingly poignant moment of active realism and this comes during the Trial Before Pilate. Jesus is shown to be covered in realistic-looking blood, a jarring visualisation of the suffering he endured at the hands of the Romans before his ascendancy.

Therefore, the dexterity of these choices can only be attributed to the adeptness and collaborative excellence of the creative team. Timothy Sheader‘s direction ensures the piece is pacey, yet well-balanced, dramatic and clean, whilst Nick Lidster‘s sound is vibrant and all-encompassing, almost creating a stadium feel to it, as it reverberates around the venue, lending itself perfectly to the rock aspects of the score. The re-purposing of Soutra Gilmour‘s set for Evita is inspired, allowing for more free movement of the cast and showcasing Drew McOnie‘s ingenious choreography perfectly. McOnie‘s work remains stylised and eye-catching, his ability to work in a plethora of motifs is unparalleled. Though the bronze coloured crucifix that originally functioned as a platform across the stage is missing, Lee Curran‘s stunning lighting ensures the bronze cross endures, emblazoning it in lights across the middle of the stage during John Nineteen: Forty-One. As aforementioned Tom Scutt‘s design (set and costume) is artistic and meaningful, a particular moment of wonder was the gold cloth brought out across the stage upon Herod (Shaq Taylor)’s entrance. Not only was it dazzling and matched the gold detailing in Herod’s costuming, it suggested the kingly pomp of the man in trying to show off in front of another alleged ‘king’, (perhaps referencing King Henry VIII in his show of power at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, when meeting with King Francis I of France in 1520).

With 9 performances being undertaken in a week, the roles of Jesus, Judas and Mary have been double-cast, giving audiences the opportunity to see any combination of actors as they alternate performances. In this performance, as mentioned above, Mary was performed by Anoushka Lucas, Judas by Tyrone Huntley and Jesus by Declan Bennett. Anoushka Lucas is sensational, her tonality and lucidity truly shine here, a warming portrayal, that beguiles and affects throughout. Whilst, Declan Bennett‘s physicality is paramount, alongside his truly beautiful falsetto he candidly embodies the hesitancy and contemplative nature of the character. And Tyrone Huntley is the powerhouse he has always been, delivering an astonishingly haunted and soulful Judas, his delivery exploding in full colour as the character utterly breaks down. Alongside them, Nathan Amzi and Ivan De Freitas are a charismatic duo and vocally consummate as Annas and Caiaphas, whilst Cedric Neal is similarly as entrancing and endearing as Simon. Shaq Taylor‘s delivery of Herod is wonderfully self-assured, vehement and thoroughly entertaining, alongside an agile delivery of Pilate by David Thaxton, who bolsters phenomenal vocal abilities and excellent stage presence. Finally, Genesis Lynea‘s physicality is incredibly fluid and strong, she hits every accent of McOnie‘s complex choreography with ease and is joined by an ensemble of artists: Daniel Bailey, Dale Evans, Rosie Fletcher, Josh Hawkins, Stevie Hutchinson, Phil King (Peter), Billy Nevers, Rosa O’Reilly, Charlotte Riby, Tinovimbanashe Sibanda, Barnaby Thompson, Elliotte Williams-N’Dure and Tara Young, who are all truly gifted, with conviction and heart they emotively carry the show.

To conclude, this production is much more than a concert staging, it includes much of the intent of it’s earlier iterations, with the design and directorial choices becoming paragon’s of artistic expression. Please do go and support this production, it is definitely worth it, tickets can be purchased here, whilst information about the recently announced Superstar-On-Screen can be found here.

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The Creative Team: Will Burton CDG and David Grindrod CDG (casting), Ed Bussey (associate musical director), Lee Curran (lighting design), Tom Deering (musical supervisor), Barbara Houseman (associate director, voice and text), Drew McOnie (choreography), Nick Lidster for Autograph (sound design), Tom Scutt (set design) after the set design for EVITA by Soutra Gilmour, Tom Scutt (costume design), Timothy Sheader (director), Kate Waters (fight director) and Denzel Westley-Sanderson (co-director).

The Cast: Ricardo Afonso – Judas, Nathan Amzi – Annas (cover Judas), Daniel Bailey – Ensemble (cover Herod), Declan Bennett – Jesus, Dale Evans – Ensemble (cover Caiaphas), Rosie Fletcher – Ensemble (cover Mary), Ivan De Freitas – Caiaphas, Josh Hawkins – Ensemble (cover Jesus, Pilate, Peter), Tyrone Huntley – Judas, Stevie Hutchinson – Ensemble (cover Annas), Phil King – Peter, Anoushka Lucas – Mary, Genesis Lynea – Soul Singer/Mob Leader, Maimuna Memon – Mary, Cedric Neal – Simon, Billy Nevers – Ensemble (cover Simon), Pepe Nufrio – Jesus, Rosa O’Reilly – Soul Singer, Charlotte Riby – Ensemble (cover Soul Singers), Tinovimbanashe Sibanda – Ensemble | Dance Captain, Shaq Taylor – Herod, David Thaxton – Pilate, Barnaby Thompson – Ensemble (cover Priests), Elliotte Williams-N’Dure – Soul Singer, Tara Young – Ensemble

The Band: Oroh Angiama – Bass Guitar, John Barclay – Trumpet, Alan Berlyn – Trumpet | Keyboard, Neil Brock – Guitar, Ed Bussey – Associate Musical Director, Tom Deering – Musical Director | Piano, Anna Douglass – French Horn, Sean Green – Keyboard | Hammond Organ, Pete Lewinson – Drums, Howard McGill – Tenor Saxophone | Flute | Clarinet, Bryan Smith – Guitar, Sarah Williams – Trombone | Tuba

Review: RIDE: a new musical, Forge (Vault Festival)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Freya Smith and Jack Williams’ brand-new musical RIDE, is quite simply sensational. An endlessly fresh and innovative musical delivered by only two actors and four musicians, brimming with plenty of heart, rhythm and story, this one is not to be missed.

Bolstering a strong narrative, RIDE is proficiently bold, well-written, engaging and thoroughly entertaining. Set in 1895 and following 24 year old Annie Londonderry, who has returned victorious to America as the first woman to cycle around the world, this vibrant female-led two-hander, wonderfully enacts as Annie telling and embellishing the story of her travels. With the unwitting assistance of a secretary named Martha, she delivers the retelling to several big-wig New York editors, aiming to demonstrate her versatility and secure a paid newspaper column. Smith and Williams thus, phenomenally capture Annie’s mounting ambition and irreverent charm. A blaring ambition and persuasive ability that often caused a tendency in her to focus on story over fact, Annie’s wild imagination and idealistic pitching of her story being tumultuously staged here. The piece augmenting in this, a fantastic amount of depth, as it touches upon the parts of Annie’s life she’d perhaps rather leave hidden and not confront, such as her Latvian immigrant status and Jewish heritage, (particularly in a period rife with anti-Semitic tropes, Annie Kopchovsky being her real name). As well as illuminating on the heart-wrenching death of Annie’s younger brother Jacob and the leaving of her own children in order to cycle around the world. Doing much to paint and explain Annie’s motivations, financial or otherwise, whilst gravitationally demonstrating just how easy it is to manipulate a press story for widespread appeal.

As aforementioned the work is strikingly well-written; a salient narrative, delivered with an imaginative, comedically-rich and vivacious book, that is paired with 10 simply outstanding songs. Smith and Williams’ score being characterised by its harmonic intricacies and repetitive motifs, making it catchy, smart, euphonious and most importantly, entertaining. These are certainly two writers to watch out for. Likewise, Smith’s direction, with help from Associate Director & Dramaturg Adam Lenson, is dynamic and assured, doing much to perpetuate and bring to life the many facets of Annie, bringing in turn, a lot of colour to Martha’s character. A character that could quite easily have remained two dimensional as a subordinate to the dominance of Annie, exploited by her into the role of a storytelling tool. The storytelling, story within a story nature of the writing, is furthermore mirrored perfectly in the staging and minimal set, allowing for Annie and Martha to manipulate the elements of the office space, such as filling cabinets, a writing desk, documents, flowers, a hat and coat-stand and more, these becoming wonderfully suggestive of various characters and locations, desk chairs instantaneously becoming bicycles travelling the breadth of the earth at speed.

As far as performances go, Amy Parker’s Annie is suitably boisterous and tricky, as she must be in order to try and play in a man’s world. Yet, Parker is also subtly able to convey Annie’s inner turmoil, and thus the truth she is running away from. Parker’s performance is therefore, beautifully dynamic, her Annie remaining unequivocally layered, she is charming and tenacious, yet burdened and visibly desperate. Parker also displays incredible vocal tonality. Whilst Amelia Gabriel, the Martha to Parker’s Annie, complements her perfectly. Not only is Gabriel’s voice equally as stunning, her timid, yet reliable Martha bounces from fear to joy in an instant, Gabriel providing some seriously sensational characterisation. Her facial expressions and physical abilities are unparalleled, Gabriel truly capturing the dedicated and intelligent employee, looking for excitement and true appreciation, but too afraid to overstep her mark and lose it all. Both demonstrating just how malleable and dexterous they are as performers. Whilst the four piece band consisting of writers Jack Williams and Freya Smith, James Pugliese and Tim Harvey are wonderful performers, despite their size they do much to fill out the sound and play in a particularly stylised manner, providing a distinctive and eclectic sound.

Bottle Cap Theatre’s RIDE plays VAULT Festival until Sunday, click here to book now.

 

Annie (& Monticello/Yates): Amy Parker

Martha (& Yates/Celine/Fred): Amelia Gabriel

Book, Music and Lyrics: Freya Smith & Jack Williams

MD/Guitar: Jack Williams

Keys: Freya Smith

Bass: James Pugliese

Drums: Tim Harvey

Director: Freya Smith

Associate Director & Dramaturg: Adam Lenson

Movement Director: Alfred Taylor-Gaunt

Production Manager: Hannah Roza Fisher

Lighting Designer: Tim Kelly

Costume: Anna Smith

Associate Producer: Naomi Chapman

PR: Michael Bodansky

Review: Zoo, Cavern (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

If you aren’t planning on catching Lily Bevan’s Zoo at VAULT Festival this week, what are you doing? Bevan’s smash-hit play is running until Sunday and is quite simply sensational. Full of depth, heart, intelligence and comedic wonderment, it’s a must see!

Having ran previously at Assembly in Edinburgh and Theatre 503 to great critical acclaim, Zoo has now been published by Nick Hern Books and is a bittersweet, tragicomedy about friendship, courage and flamingos. Set in both Miami and Yorkshire, the narrative harmonically follows two close female friends, Bonnie, who works at Cherokee Valley Zoo and Carol who devotes her time to bat conservation in the Yorkshire Dales, the pair, despite living thousands of miles apart, care greatly for each other. Making Zoo, a timeless story of love and friendship. We watch how they navigate their passion for animals, alongside the troublesome men prevalent in their lives. Animals proving to be much easier for them to cope with, an engaging counter-balance to their pair’s mild disdain for human connection.

Zoo therefore, eloquently traverses the female experience with immaculate wit and charm, meaningfully and affectingly touching upon strong topics such as domestic abuse, divorce, single parenthood and gender discrimination/misogyny. When a hurricane heads straight for Miami, Bonnie rushes to keep her animals safe. Across the world in Yorkshire, Carol feels the repercussions. From Carol’s pantomathic knowledge of bats and fear that cavers will disturb them, to Bonnie’s resistance in leaving her animals alone in the storm, Bevan dutifully captures absolute passion, love, loyalty, commitment and solicitude, as well as a creating dialogue about humanity’s relationship to the natural world. Demonstrating the lengths people will go to in order to save what they love and depicting how split-decisions in a crisis can shape one’s destiny. Meaning Zoo is not only a tender tale of sisterhood set to the back drop of animal facts and raucous comedy, but a turbulent play about change, both in the climate sense as the storms hit much harder than expected and in the female characters, Carol for instance is forced to find friendship in those around her and reform a relationship with her son, she is therefore, tentatively rejoining the human world with help from Bonnie. Opening up an intriguing discourse on purpose, legacy, spirituality and the concept of a life well lived.

However, Zoo has even more going for it than its clever, complex and hilarious writing. Bevan and Hamish MacDougall’s vibrant direction brings to life both Carol’s bountiful Yorkshire and Bonnie’s cherished Cherokee Valley Zoo. Bonnie therefore resides in Miami on the left, whilst Carol remains on the right in Yorkshire, the pair meeting in the middle when reminiscing about their first meeting at Chester Zoo or Carol’s recent trip to visit Bonnie. This physical representation of their locative distance being wonderfully envisioned by designer Erica Greenshields. Cherokee is brought to life by a neatly painted zoo sign and a series of cages moved around by Bonnie and to be used to safely house the animals, with precautionate sand bags surrounding the perimeter of the stage. Whilst Yorkshire is bare and less colourful, a reflection of the dark caves Carol spends her time studying bats in, the prevalent zoo sign later flipping to reveal a sign for Yorkshire instead, demonstrating the focus switching to Carol. Furthermore, the bench centre stage upon which we see Bonnie and Carol meet for the first time, is later and strikingly used by Carol alone, as she debates her next cause of action. Symbiotically, Tom Clutterbuck’s lighting and Mike Winship’s sound do much to artfully complement and embellish the locative nature of the work and its direction. Regarding performances, Bevan is a comedic tour de force, her Bonnie is impassioned, witty, instantaneously likeable and good-natured. Bevan is not only expressive and vivacious, her delivery is also smart and committed, Bevan knows exactly when to play to her audience. Whilst Lorna Beckett’s Carol is tough, determined and resilient, despite the harder, more reserved nature of the character, Beckett toys with the part and takes every opportunity for comedic relief, she like Bevan, is an effortless and smart storyteller.

To conclude, we cannot reccomend Zoo enough! CLICK HERE TO BOOK. Or HERE to buy a copy of the play text.

 

Performed by Lily Bevan (Bonnie Young) and Lorna Beckett (Carol Alsop)

Co-directed by Hamish MacDougall and Lily Bevan

Assistant Producer Alice Robinson

Production Assistant Sophia Tuffin

Designer Erica Greenshields

Sound Design by Mike Winship

Lighting Design by Tom Clutterbuck

Technical Stage Manager Eleanor Theodorou

Review: L I M B O, Cavern (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Produced by Causas Comuns, Sara Carinhas directs an intimately human combination of stories, dextrously woven together. These searing, autobiographical snapshots are phenomenally set to music and dance for a transformative and theatrical affect.

Presenting a whimsical blur of narratives, the piece sensationally uses physical theatre moments and shadow work with transitions and songs, to play with the boundary between fiction and reality. Layering narrative upon narrative to provide an intelligible, provocative and bittersweet exegesis on the human experience. Touching on universal themes such as: love, friendship, ageing, solitude, existentialism, war, humanity vs nature, fascism, identity, immigration and more, L I M B O is a fast-paced piece of art bolstering a strong ensemble of international performers with excellent storytelling abilities, able to take us eerily from joy and hope to utter despair, in a single look or movement. Subtly referencing well-known Hollywood-ised stories such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes and L.Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the intended blur of fiction vs reality is truly threaded in. As the stories are remade by others and now them, Causas Comuns lead us to question do they still mean what they initially did?

As an internationally-focussed piece, the work also plays a lot with nationality and language. For instance, there is a beautiful section where Pierre Ensergueix euphorically talks about a childhood long ago in French, with Carinhas proceeding to translate it line by line into English. Whilst Filomena Cautela enchantingly flits through a series of different international accents with complete ease. The actors often reverting from English to (usually) their native language within sections of their storytelling, beautifully toying with the idea of universality, as, though there are parts the monolingual amongst us can’t necessarily understand, the emotion and sentiment shines through. Language being only one way to communicate. Hence the highly physical and musical nature of the piece.

As aforementioned the show also encapsulates some wonderful shadow work, providing phenomenal aesthetic intrigue and beauty, particularly from António Bollaño and Pierre Ensergueix, a testament to their physical performative abilities. Whilst Nádia Yracema is wonderfully endearing and expressive, her delivery is brimming with unadulterated clarity. Equally, Marco Nanetti is a powerful and succinct actor with a certain charm about him. Alongside them, Filomena Cautela, as aforementioned is fantastically malleable and articulate, demonstrating her boundless energy throughout. Finally Director and performer Sara Carinhas is suitably smart and quick-witted. Culminating in a clever, confounding and complex piece.

Catch  L I M B O today only at VAULT festival. Click here to book now.

 


Director: Sara Carinhas

Cast: António Bollaño, Filomena Cautela, Marco Nanetti, Nádia Yracema, Pierre Ensergueix, Sara Carinhas

Production: Causas Comuns

Review: Omelette, Cavern (Vault Festival)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Omelette is a bizarre, yet absolutely charming love story full of wit and intelligence.

Set in a climate-conscious London, the piece follows Mia and Mo, who fall hard and fast for each other, after unexpectedly meeting in a shared Uber one night. The couple consolidate their affection for each other and hit the big milestones, whilst doing their bit for the planet. They attend all the marches, move in together, turn off the heating, stay indoors and even in a surreal twist of events, eat their goldfish, (waste not, want not). But as they begin to buckle under the pressure of neutralising their carbon footprint and the climate continues to collapse, their passionate love affair bitterly crumbles around them, much like the planet. Anna Spearpoint thus, writes a beautifully thematic love story, Mia and Mo’s all in, cult-like approach to becoming, in totality, eco-friendly, fantastically mirrors their intensely tempestuous relationship that seemingly forms over night. A wonderful examination of the prevalent extremism demonstrated by some climate activists, using the absurdity of the couple to subtly suggest that we don’t all have to be perfect all of the time to make a difference. Spearpoint phenomenally using the rise and fall of the relationship to highlight a hope that we can undo things, a hope that she breaks just as the relationship falls apart, demonstrating how futile individual efforts can seem, as well as the way in which this pressure to be perfect can affect everything, from relationships to how we act regarding climate change. The piece ultimately becoming a rallying cry to work together, to not necessarily be perfect, but to offset as much as we can, by planting trees for instance. Spearpoint’s writing is therefore hugely relevant and engaging, her comedic and emotional intelligence being wonderfully flexed here.

Tash Hyman’s direction is likewise, severely dexterous and does much to stage climate anxiety and the intensity of the aforementioned marches that the pair pledge to attend. Her decisions, mixed with Alice Boyd’s intricate Sound Design and Rajiv Pattani’s sharp, yet aesthetically stunning Lighting create an intense, fast-paced piece with swift and cutting scene changes that bring a certain riotous sense of anticipation and building pressure. Perfect for the climate anxiety the piece intends to convey. Whilst the circular nature of Seren Noel’s design, the audience sitting on all sides, not only hones in on this built-up, pressurised atmosphere, but cleverly engenders this sense of the couple going no where. Both figuratively and literally. As they take the decision to stay indoors in order to avoid doing anything to harm the environment, they remain on a circular disc centre stage, trapped. Their eco-efforts are the same, despite seemingly doing more, they are getting no where in terms of the bigger picture. Finally, a spiral at the centre of the disc they reside on, is revealed and this enacts the centre of their fixation on absurdly going to extremes to do everything they possibly can and therefore disregarding all rationality. Making Omelette a succinctly layered and intelligible piece. The couple’s movement around the disc combined with conversation, providing an exciting discourse on the Climate Action strikes, veganism, privilege when it comes to being able to afford to not work and go on the marches, love and more. Whilst Anna Spearpoint and Kwami Odoom’s performances are simply brilliant. They are both equally as vibrant, demonstrating themselves to be comedically smart and emotive actors. Their performances are a joy to watch.

Long Distance Theatre’s Omelette runs at VAULT festival until 23rd February, click here to book now.

Cast

Mia: Anna Spearpoint

Mo: Kwami Odoom

 

Creative Team

Writer: Anna Spearpoint

Director: Tash Hyman

Dramaturg: Tommo Fowler

Designer: Seren Noel

Sound Designer: Alice Boyd

Lighting Designer: Rajiv Pattani

Producer: Tom Bevan

Review: Coming Out Of My Cage (And I’ve Been Doing Just Fine), Pit (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Is it possible to write an entire show about a single song? More specifically about a rock anthem? And more specifically than that, about Mr Brightside, The Killers biggest hit, so adored that it hasn’t left the UK charts in 16 years. Shepard Tone say unequivocally yes because that’s exactly what they’ve done, How did it end up like this? It was only a hit, it was only a hit.

Combining karaoke, clowning, projections, interviews, videos, live instruments, lip-syncing and more. Performers Tim and Hannah navigate the universality of a tune that became ‘the song’ of the noughties. Known for uniting people whether that be on a night out, in a pub, or beyond. Using unadulterated silliness, music and storytelling to truly connect with and unify their audience, Coming Out Of My Cage (And I’ve Been Doing Just Fine) is therefore, a damn good time and has a lot going for it. From the nostalgic factor, all but one person in the room knowing the song – connecting it to one memory or more and needing no coercion to sing it triumphantly, to the engendered, uniquely un-manipulatory audience participation promoting total investment. We laugh endlessly, we answer a call from Destiny, we help Tim and Hannah out of a literal cage, we close and open our eager eyes, we sing, we clap, we dance. It’s just fun! What more could you want from a night out?

Whilst the narrative is an episodic investigation into the song, traversing it’s history and the music video, to the subsequent memes, viral videos and tangible experiences that ensued. Sewn together by an overarching plot through which Tim and Hannah (and their audience), recreate a viral video filmed in an Irish bar, where the community are singing Mr Brightside for their recently departed friend. With one man enigmatically standing on the L-shaped bar as he and his friend used to. In each scene we learn more about, and are then reminded of the bar, crowded with people, all with drinks in-hand, singing this song for a lost friend, and are led to wonder who they are and if they all know each other… So not only is the piece a tender reimagining of a real instance, but a heartwarming reminder of genuine human connection. Much inline with the unifying nature of this show and the song that inspired it, the audience are brought together by the phenomenon that is Mr Brightside, like the people in the bar were brought together in their grief, symbiotically celebrating a life with this song. How’s that for universality?

In conjunction with this, is the main investigation. Beyond the facets of memes and viral videos, the duo are led to Rotherham, ‘the north’ of all places, in pursuit of a karaoke artist known as Brampton Flowers, who they’ve watched online. Of course, hilarity ensues as they try to infiltrate the community and their curiosity grows. Who is she, why does she always sing the same song and what inspires her to dress up week-on-week? The dazzling, (some would say), costumes wittily paying homage to her dressing up and the original music video itself, (yes there is a touch of apple throwing!) This, entwined with the Irish man’s wake, conducts a bitter-sweetness in the way a single song ties these incredible people and stories together.

The work is also particularly tech-heavy, though this can be clunky at times, the relatability of the projected ‘Vlog content’ from Rotherham, or displayed facebook conversations/stalking sessions and layers of endless memes are completely worth it. We are also total suckers for puns and you can be sure that this show contains plenty of cleverly-timed gags, the perfect homage to the meme-community spawned from Mr Brightside. Whilst the vastitude of instruments played remind us, not only of how talented the pair are – referring to the endless covers of the song that can be found online, but also of how this is a piece ultimately about music and that music has an unimaginably powerful way of bringing people together. In a show about unity, an EU flag fading into the distance didn’t go awry, making a sharp, fleeting and perhaps too soon jab at Brexit. Nonetheless, Coming Out Of My Cage (And I’ve Been Doing Just Fine) is a much needed antidote to the February Blues, (if that’s a thing, it’s a thing now!)

Click here to book your tickets and don’t forget to sing your heart out.

Review: Mighty, Crypt (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Jack AG Britton’s Mighty is a riotous, conceptualised combination of self-made, loop-peddled, live music, spoken word, truth bombs and statistics, witty anecdotes, recorded interviews and audience interaction. Providing a fantastically powerful and amusing discourse on body image from the male perspective, and more specifically, heightism.

Described as a ‘TED-talk-meets-theatre show’, Britton, a five foot four and 3/4 inches theatre-maker, artistically and truthfully dives into how his height has affected his self-esteem, mental health, masculinity and more, in a bitter-sweet, biopic performance. Navigating the challenges of online dating, blatant and unchallenged prejudice to short guys, companies selling shoes that discreetly add height, stereotypes, hateful conduct policies on social media and making it onto the best rides at Drayton Manor. A smattering array of topics, that he cleverly weaves together, to deliver an honest and much-need conversation starter on the broader subject of toxic masculinity. His personable approach and comedy, having a whole-heartedly engaging effect. Britton simply doesn’t take himself too seriously, but loudly, (often with a mega-phone), backs up his words with genuine facts and interviews with professionals, rationalising his displeasure at how he and others are treated whilst providing endless comedic refrain. Asking the big (or little) question: should we be taking Heightism more seriously? Expect puns!

Britton’s work is terrifically provocative and understated, for example he mentions amongst many statistics that shorter men are more likely to commit suicide, going on to then later wrap a measuring tape around his neck like a noose. Emoting this harrowing image  perfectly. Yet, he still doesn’t just lay out the problems, Britton uses and re-enacts his own responses to moments of prejudice to demonstrate that it’s okay to stand up and call someone out on it, that it won’t change until people do. Juxtaposing this with the fact that online policies don’t see threatening comments on body image outside of race/disability, i.e weight or height as determinates of hateful conduct, therefore hateful mentions regarding these won’t be taken down if reported. An exceedingly shocking and transformative notion. Whilst his moments of improv, audience participation and direct address allow him to build up rapport with his audience. As he converses with them, he consequentially leads them to question their own actions, a wonderfully reflective construction. Britton is therefore, immensely quick-witted, hugely entertaining and endlessly engaging, certainly a performer to watch out for and indefinitely mastering his craft.

Catch Mighty today at Vault Festival at 3pm & 6pm, click here to book now.

Review: Me Myself I, Pit (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Carla GraulsMe Myself I is a striking and much-needed portrayal of humanity and it’s dulcet response to the climate crisis. Delving deep into the idea of legacy and the meaning of life, Grauls heartbreakingly captures the rate at which the planet is dying whilst humans keep on living, focussing more on legacy and online presence than the world they are actually in.

We meet Lana and Lena in a facility, where Lana, having chosen to replace herself before she dies, is having her clone Lena sign over her servitude for 100 years, should she even live that long, agreeing to taking on Lana’s identity in its entirety. The contract thus inciting Lena to adopt her life, relationship and digital presence, with guidelines explaining how to do so. But as we quickly see, the life that Lena inherits isn’t quite what she expected. The world is different to what she’s been told and the life, paper-thin, a loveless relationship with very little affection, a purposeless existence all riding on a falsified digital presence.

Going through several generations of clones, the work has a wonderfully artistic Samuel Beckett-esque monotony to it. As clone by clone goes by, the same single-perspective anecdotes being told to help the next understand who they are becoming, more birds die, forests burn, marshes swamp and houses are swallowed whole. Not only is the extent of the climate emergency therefore harshly constructed in front of us, humanity is congruently deconstructed, it’s loss of meaning, potent. With the clones almost willing the next to not sign the agreement and end the line. Humans become a mass of selfie-posting, idealism-lovers, obsessed with perfection, their image and their legacy, unable to authentically live and love and blind to their own destruction. Sound familiar? Lana’s decision to ‘go on living’ thus coming from a place of selfish vanity and insecurity, not wanting her boyfriend to find someone else, her privilege in full view as she mentions how she has paid for this service. The only ‘good’, preventative deed  regarding the climate emergency that she completes and explains to her clone, is the washing and recycling of plastics, an ironic drop in the ocean on the grand-scale of saving the planet. Grauls’ writing is therefore intelligible, reactive, sharp and clear in its call to action, whilst vibrant in its eloquence and poeticism.

Andrew Twyman’s direction vividly responds, taking Grauls’ stirring and bold lead. Twyman thematically chooses to stage the destruction, the action happening on a platform above dirt and bark mixed in with plastic waste, demonstrable of the human tendency to act above and oblivious to what surrounds them. Culminating in the actors throwing the bark and then examining the plastic, a visual depiction of how single use plastic is one of the things killing the planet. Whilst the square is plain and adorned with white furniture, a clinical man-made cell of privilege, it becomes dirty with the bark demonstrating the insistence that we cannot ignore what is happening forever. The dexterity of Twyman’s direction wonderfully enhancing Grauls’ wit and humour, intuitively referencing and enacting much of what is in the text. He cleverly brings to the forefront the clones becoming Lana, adopting and copying her nuances, inflections, gestures and poses, (for her all important selfies). Intricately physicalising the contract and the taking over of Lana’s life. Lana, Lena and co. are played fantastically by identical twins Leah and Mhairi Gayer. Both are perceptive performers, self-assured and filled with clarity. Locked into the action and utterly in sync, they resiliently blaze through the piece and it’s demanding pace. Pure excellence. 

Me Myself I, ultimately asks what’s the point in living forever in a world that won’t exist? Catch Me Myself I at Vault Festival on Sunday 9th February at 4:30pm and 7:30pm, click here to book now.

 

Written by Carla Grauls

Directed by Andrew Twyman

Produced and presented by Holly White

Actor – Leah Gayer

Actor – Mhairi Gayer

Casting Director – Belinda Norcliffe CDG

Review: Patricia Gets Ready (for a date with the man that used to hit her), Crypt (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

A refreshingly honest, witty and affecting ‘get ready with me’ like no other.

Playing on the ‘grwm’ form made famous by beauty and lifestyle vloggers, (a trend where content creators film their processes whilst addressing their audience), Martha Watson Allpress wonderfully finds a direct medium through which to tell an authentic story of abuse. She vividly captures the trauma, the questions people often have, the stigma attached, the healing process, the need for coping mechanisms, hope, the love that convinces those in abusive relationships to stay, and more. All culminating in a funny, intelligent and heart-rendering shattering of the stereotype and this projected idea of ‘shame’ around abuse. Patricia demonstrating a women owning her own narrative and telling it how she wants to. The purpose of this being, firstly, to devolve that those who haven’t experienced it can never possibly know what it’s like and it helps if they stop trying to. Secondly, to dismember the age-old idea of the ‘broken’ or ‘battered women’ that doesn’t actually exist, she doesn’t look a certain way or act a certain way, someone now putting their life back together could be anyone you know. A powerful message of unity that reminds us that survivors are of all colours, shapes and sizes, with their own stories to tell if and when they choose.

The getting ready process is therefore acted out, whilst Patricia, (Angelina Chudi), directly addresses her audience. We hear how she bumped into her ex on the street and having been taken off-guard she has accidentally agreed to go to dinner with him that night. This mishap, is instead of her delivering the kick-ass speech she’s spent a year crafting about his violent treatment of her and her own self-worth. Whilst she ponders over what to wear, what to to say and whether to actually even go, she nostalgically talks us through her past, how they met and what it was like, to her present and then her hopes for the future. A tender and personable image of recovery, with Patricia describing and even enacting the scars that remain, juxtaposed with her ultimately demonstrating her power when faced with this impossible situation and a man she still loves. Alongside, using the semantics of words to reflect the fact that the affects can never truly be understood by anyone else. Such as ‘Abuse. Verb. To treat with cruelty or violence…’, playing with the ideology that though you understand the meaning of a word, you may not actually understand what it is like. An ingenious proposition sustained throughout.

Furthermore, Chudi is sensational, her performance is warm, brimming with emotion, clarity and smart choices, bouncing off her audience to boundless comedic effect. Whilst Kaleya Baxe’s direction is again smart and dexterous, helping to accurately capture Patricia’s various states of tension as she goes from embarrassment to dread, hurt yet still totally in love to motivated and enraged. The work also includes some particularly consequential sound design, paired well with the lighting, doing much to amalgamate the overall storytelling. The only thing we would actively change is to have Patricia really getting ready rather than just mime, just to see how the realism of it affects the piece. Despite it’s heavy subject matter, Patricia Gets Ready (for a date with the man that used to hit her) is exceedingly uplifting, funny and well-written, definitely worth a watch.

If you would like to see Patricia Gets Ready (for a date with the man that used to hit her) at Vault Festival click here.

 

 

Playwright – Martha Watson Allpress

Director – Kaleya Baxe

Performer – Angelina Chudi

Sound Design- Beth Duke

Production/ Technical- Steven Frost

Producer – Nur Khairiyah Bte Ramli

Review: Be Longing, Forge (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Bolstering an affecting and meaningful queer narrative, Be Longing is a stunning, vividly-written, dystopian paragon. Expertly navigating the morality of genetic engineering, whilst beautifully capturing the slow and painful fizzle of losing love. To put it plainly, it’s a must see!

Set in the not-too-distant present, the piece follows Sigrid and Jim, a relatively normal couple. Episodically, we experience their highs and lows, they laugh, they fight, they make up. These fast-paced snapshots engendering a charming fondness between the two of them, as well as a genuine sense of pain that they seem to cause each-other. The fluctuation of their relationship is palpable, ensuring characters remain tangible and universally relatable. Things start to turn sour when the possibility enters their relationship, of using gene splicing to create a baby from both of their eggs, (a process devoid of any sperm). Their different opinions cleverly becoming the grounds for an enamouring discourse on the morals of medalling with nature and natural selection. Jim is therefore, the clinical, matter-of-fact geneticist who cannot ignore her maternal instincts. Craving to carry a biological child, she sees nothing wrong with the anti-natural selection of the future family model, allowing not only for queer couples to conceive, but for them to box-check the features they would like, i.e skin pigmentation, eye colour and more, theoretically erasing genetic diseases and building their perfect child. This sentiment and style reminding us much of Ella Road’s award-winning play The Phlebotomist. Be Longing thus, fantastically plays on the idea of selection, pitting natural selection, the process through which heritable traits are changed and passed down, against the dystopian idea of manually selecting genes through ticking boxes and signing forms, ready for a lab to engineer it so. Sigrid, comparatively, doesn’t have a maternal bone in her body and has no desire to carry or birth a baby. It doesn’t sit so easy with her to manufacture offspring. She is unsure if she even wants to procreate at first and when it comes down to it, wishes she could leave things to chance. Counter-balancing the argument, she wonders if protesters to the lab’s experimentation are right and questions the ethics, such as what happens to the ‘half-cooked’ embryos. Lauren Gibson’s writing, is therefore a wonderfully balanced and didactic exegesis, she delivers something unimaginably complex and proficient, truthfully navigating the primal urge to want to reproduce. Writing for-the-now, her work is politically and socially aware, for example imagining the probable Tory opinion on lab’s pro LGBTQ+ work and creating a realistic idea of what the media circus around it would be like. Not only does Gibson pose these irreproachable questions and champion everyone’s right to a family, she also demonstrates her wit, leaving plenty of room for comedic relief, i.e Sigrid comparing the process to buying their baby from Argos on Click and Collect.

Lizzie Fitzpatrick’s direction is scintillating, subtle yet strong it combines intimate moments love or emotive impassioned arguments with swift changes in lighting and empowered musical underscoring to maintain a snappy pace, whilst not undermining the overall intent. The scenes in which they each take it in turns to address some thoughts to their embryo(s), documenting their journey for the baby’s future, do much to convey a realistic sense of maternal anticipation, from the nerves, to the excitement, fears and more. This is were the beauty in the design comes in.   White orbs of light, representative of the potential child surround the edges of the playing space, one sitting centre on the couple’s coffee table, these are picked up and addressed directly in these moments. Enacting as endearing, humanising letters. The suggestion of the domestic setting of their home, (i.e with the coffee table, chairs and rug), doing much to contain them as a family unit, grounding and personalising the narrative. Whilst the inclusion of the idea of infertility, through a fault in the body not the eggs, despite all of the science, brings the dystopian fantasy brutally back to earth. 

Performance-wise, Lauren Gibson’s Sigrid is a breath of fresh air, her clarity and nuanced performance phenomenally conveying the unease Sigrid has over the idea of co-parenting, as well as the unfaltering adoration she holds for Jim, Sigrid would do anything for her. Whilst Keagan Carr Fransch’s Jim is passionate and strong, Fransch providing a fantastically visceral portrayal of Jim’s inward frustrations and sharply-practical nature. Both are hugely emotive and dextrously actors.

Do not miss Be Longing on until 8th February, (with a relaxed performance at 3pm on the 8th). Click here.

 

Jim: Keagan Carr Fransch

Sigrid: Lauren Gibson

Director: Lizzie Fitzpatrick

Dramaturg: Molly O’Shea

Producer: Caroline Tyka

Writer: Lauren Gibson