Review: Orlando, Pit – The Vaults, (Vaults Festival 2019)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

A charming and vivacious exegesis on love, identity, time and of course, Virginia Woolf.

Having surmised the entire plot of Virginia Woolf’s classic 1928 novel Orlando, published just a year shy of the Great Depression, Lucy Roslyn goes on to deliver a witty, if somewhat jumbled and misguided comparison of ‘her own’ circumstances to those of Orlando. She both imagines the character as if in front of her, suggesting what Orlando would say when experiencing the world today, whilst symbiotically taking on that role herself and acting as the character. We’re sure there is meant to be a clever commentary on the ideology behind characterisation and the adoption of different guises here, but unfortunately it gets lost as we scramble to try and understand the point to Roslyn’s nebulous conversationals. It’s kind of ironic that the piece starts with her asking when and how does a play start? and how do we define the beginning and the end? when it’s difficult to define her version of Orlando, was it simply an analytical delivery of the plot, mixed in with a modern comparison? Or was the offering deliberately vague as an overall commentary on identity and labels? It’s a long stretch, but as Roslyn navigates the changes in gender of the character and ‘her own’ choice to shy away from the label of bisexuality, we begin to understand the overarching theme of identity as a choice. Orlando could therefore have been presented as deliberately open to interpretation, open to be what you want it to be. As much as the novel promotes being seen for who you choose to be.

Despite this, Lucy Roslyn herself is a competent and exuberant performer and storyteller, commanding the space well whilst dynamically holding her audience’s attention, making it all the more frustrating that the work seems to have no solid through-line. Don’t get us wrong a through-line exists and there are interesting explications on the aforementioned thematics, whilst Roslyn fosters a genuine warmth on the subject of love and lost love. The piece just needs more focus and overall clarity. It does however craft a beautifully balanced love-letter to Woolf’s original novel, building on the motifs and symbols found within. Allowing for an acknowledgement of the novels relevancy even today, a stand against the ‘identitarian bullshit of 2019’.

Orlando plays until Sunday at Vaults Festival. Click here to book.

Written and performed by Lucy Roslyn
Directed by Josh Roche

Producer: Jessie Anand
Designer: Sophie Thomas
Lighting Designer: Peter Small
Sound Designer: Kieran Lucas

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Review: Drought, Pit – The Vaults, (Vaults Festival 2019)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Hauntingly beautiful!

Theatre-maker Kate Radford is a true artist, visionary and storyteller. Navigating the ancient mythology surrounding Caenis, a woman known for her beauty, charm and knowledge, Radford veraciously explores what it is to be a women, through the lenses of both consent and expectation. Utilising this age old story of submission as a vehicle for her bright, bold and witty sound offs, noting of the tale’s consistent repetition and the fact it should be dutifully learned from. No doubt inspired by this erupting #MeToo era.

From the offset it is abundantly clear that Radford is an immensely talented spoken word writer and performer. Regaling her audience with an informative and well-crafted anarchistic dialogue, she speaks with masses of passion and conviction in metered prose, rightfully leaving her spectators in awe. Not only is her dialogue impeccable, she is also insanely musically gifted, turning her talents to song throughout and blending her chosen styles expertly. The spoken word, storytelling and musicianship mix with digital aspects to bring this retelling prominently into the modern age and pinpoint its utter relevancy. With this in mind Radford spiritedly utilises a looping system to craft vibrant soundscapes, layering variegated sounds and colourful harmonies, whilst projections of images and landscapes help further to locate Caenis’ story. Sound and visualisations thus engender a series of exciting ‘digital landscapes’, these digital vistas gently entwine and cohere to the explored thematics. Caenis’ narrative traversing both water and sand, ocean and desert, wet and dry, the drought and not, yes and no, a simple black and white explorative, yet raging discussion on consent. These elements all therefore surmise into an atmospherically powerful piece that promotes the generation of new narratives for women, an end to this ‘drought’ as it were.

The story does at points somewhat deviate from Caenis’, making it intermittently difficult to follow. However this is forgivable as the character’s experience can be seen as that of a universal female experience, the work promoting the need for a change away from this. The crafted soundscapes also tend to drown out Radford, though again, at points this is necessary to promote a sense of women being seen as ‘secondary’, not the heroes of their own story something simply to be had by men.

To conclude Kate Radford is hugely talented and Drought is an artistic delight, beautifully blending Ancient mythology with performance genres and digital elements aplenty. You can catch the show at Vault Festival until Sunday, click here to book.

 

Written and Performed by Kate Radford
Video composition and design by Kate Radford
Photography – Bryony Good
Associate Artist – Laurence Alliston-Greiner

Review: It is a truth, New Wimbledon Theatre, Studio

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

The audience were transfixed as a women in a prom dress and slightly orange make-up dmonstrated the various flaws, struggles and fears of Austen’s female protagonists and explicated on how they are directly parallel to many of our own today, it’s seems times haven’t truly changed. A moment of unexpected genius. Let’s just say looks can be deceiving.

In a room full of chattery Jane Austen fans the buzz is certainly palpable. Jayde, (Jaleelah Galbraith), a loveable Bristolian, who likewise idolises Jane Austen, is as conversational as her crowd, commanding attention from the outset and jovially entertaining for the duration of her performance. In a stand-up comedy show like no other, Jayde is here to spiritedly help her audience navigate the expectations placed on modern women through an anecdotal lense and with a period twist. Think Bridget Jones, Colin Firth, the world of online dating, and much more, as Jayde hilariously justifies how Austen’s ideology is still relevant today, stating that feminists should look to Sense in Sensibility rather than Single Ladies for validation.

This quaint character piece is a wonderful evening out for Austen fans and feminists alike, providing a relevant and relatable commentary upon modern ‘courtship’, from its soaring highs to its tragic lows. Galbraith’s style of comedy is exquisite, she is both expressive and gregarious, though Jayde is a stereotypical character and comically so, she comes across incredibly real and raw, as she lays bare all of her heartbreaks, embarrassments and failures. Yet her comedy is wonderfully backed up by literary wit and factual knowledge. Additionally, Galbraith is an excellent storyteller, something required to keep up with her various and elaborated anecdotes, interwoven throughout her piece, with smatterings of improvisation and moments conversing with her audience, the performance doesn’t feel recited or pre-written, the mark of a truly talented comedian as she manages to stay on track despite minor deviations, all whilst maintaining her character’s familiarity and like-ability.

As aforementioned the piece is wonderfully entertaining and at points, laugh-out-loud funny, yet Galbraith could do with working on her pacing, she speeds though many of her stories as if not coming up for a breathe, (trying to cram her script into a single hour, perhaps?) And it thus, becomes difficult to keep up with her train of words, let alone train of thought. Furthermore the modern thematics such as Harry Potter and the implications of speed dating are sporadically chosen, feeding well into comparing and contrasting Jane Austen’s world to the world we live in today, yet they also appear to detract a little too much from Galbraith’s clever utilisation of Jane Austen, her circumstances and her words. These modern exertions do not need to be taken out entirely as they are necessary for relevancy and ground the piece, but instead toned down a touch in order to streamline effectively and give the literaric research a larger much presence.

Nevertheless, It is a truth is a clever and tangible piece, decompartmentalising the modern female experience.

Review: Dear Elizabeth, Gate Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

So unbelievably playful and strong!

Tamsin Greig and Angus Wright provided a memorable masterclass in storytelling, emoting and reactivity on January 24th 2019 at the Gate Theatre. An evening of pure electricity never to be repeated again. (Though it was recorded for archive purposes).

As two actors, (Greig and Wright), enter the long rectangular space at opposing ends surrounded by audience members on both sides, they address the room as friends and beam at each other knowingly, a twinkle in their eyes. Safe in the knowledge that they are in this together and though the evening ahead may be a bumpy ride, that mistakes are okay, they are human and that is the whole point of this experiment, to create and present something truly anthropoid, not perfect and neat but raw and ephemeral. Ultimately reflective of true life.

With that in mind, Dear Elizabeth is presented to its audience by two different actors each night and most intriguingly, in every performance these actors have no idea what is going to happen, they simply follow any written instructions and read the real letters of American poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, letters that amounted to over 400 in number. Due to to the work’s very make-up, it would be easy for one to liken it to a script reading session that happens to be in front of an audience, two actors trying to stumble their way through the first read, but Dear Elizabeth is certainly not that. Sarah Ruhl has carefully curated the real words of Elizabeth and Robert, yet the designed presentation of them here is profoundly exciting and thrilling. The rehearsal room devisers and strong creative team’s work, leaves the groundwork for the actors to feel encouraged to read and enact the letters appropriately, following instructions and periodically receiving the text in a variegated manner, as well as various accompanying props, (or technical elements). These details being indicative of the letter’s content or the standing of the character at that time in their life. This dispersive and playful effect, makes for quite the opposite of strenuous readings of lengthy paragraphs of text with little stimulation coming from the delivery. Often the other actor is left looking amused at what they are faced with, or forced into something their instructions haven’t yet warned them about. An excellent nod to the unexpected nature of life and human relationships, whilst remaining hugely entertaining. As things get messy and props mount up, we are discernibly faced with the sporadic and convoluted nature of Robert and Elizabeth’s connection.

The vibrancy of the performance in these carnalised moments is thus matched by the utilisation of a joyous instrumental soundtrack and of strategic black outs or transposing  lighting states, the lighting and sound doing much to not only emote and accent the piece, but more importantly to convey this overall ‘playfulness’. The atmosphere here enacting much like the dance of flirting, another aspect of Elizabeth and Robert’s relationship, though it was platonic, their words indicate an underlying intensity, something deep, sensual and romantic. The aforementioned physicalisations of the letter’s content, thus paint wonderfully vibrant pictures of Elizabeth and Robert’s affection towards each other, as well as their cutting pain and suffering, or brisk euphoria. These are beautiful and fleeting glimpses into two lives, lived very much apart, yet connected by words. It is the apart nature of their lives which is prodigiously demonstrated though the design. The two character’s being given their own domains, writing desks at either end of the playing space. The middle ground being utilised to indicate real-life meetings or simply a particular closeness between them. Plastic sheeting, tinged with a turquoise blue sparkles along the floor, it represents the continents and therefore bodies of water that were often between Elizabeth and Robert, added to by the distance of the actors.

There is not much more to say about the work as it is something that you have to experience to truly understand. A tenderly crafted commentary upon genuine human connection, using two real individuals and their own words, brought to life in an incredibly human manner. The delivery is both exhilarating and palpable, you won’t ever see anything else like it. Let Dear Elizabeth take you through tender moments of compassion, quickly followed by witty instances of hilarity and delight, bookend by absolute heart-wrenching sorrow, the show runs until February 14th, click here to book.

 

Angela Clerkin – Performer
Helena Lymbery – Performer
Isabel Adomakoh Young – Performer
Leo Bill – Performer
Chris Thorpe – Performer
Lucy Ellinson – Performer
Sue MacLaine – Performer
Nadia Albina – Performer
Emma Frankland – Performer
Jo Clifford – Performer
Jo Horton – Performer
Emma Dennis Edwards – Performer
Seiriol Davies – Performer
Temi Wilkey – Performer
Amelia Stubberfield – Performer
Charlotte Josephine – Performer
Phoebe Fox – Performer
Caoilfhionn Dunne – Performer
Annabel Baldwin – Performer
Sarah Ruhl – Writer
Joseph Akubeze – Performer
Nigel Barrett – Developer & Deviser
Hannah Ringham – Performer/Developer & Deviser
Angus Wright – Performer
Kwame Owusu – Performer
Linda Broughton – Performer
Dickie Beau – Performer
Sule Rimi – Performer
Lucy Bairstow – Performer
Nina Harding – Stage Manager: Props
Jonjo O’Neill – Performer
Lucy McCormick – Performer
Jade Anouka – Performer
Nina Bowers – Performer / Developer & Deviser
Tamsin Greig – Performer
Travis Alabanza – Lodetti
Christopher Green – Performer
Christopher Brett Bailey – Performer
Lois Chimimba – Performer
Thalissa Teixeira – Performer
Tim Crouch – Performer
Kayla Meikle – Performer
Emun Elliott – Performer
Shalisha James Davis – Performer
Hattie Morahan – Performer
Ellen McDougall – Artistic Director and Joint Chief Executive
Moi Tran – Designer
Sam Spruell – Performer
Jon Nicholls – Sound Designer
Elizabeth Chan – Performer
Ed Borgnis – Production Manager
Phil Massingham – Production Electrician
Jenny Skivens – Stage Manager: Book
Sally Hardcastle – Design Assistant
Yasmin Hafesji – Assistant Director
Lucy Morris – Stage Manager: Props
Frankie Henry – Performer
Jessica Hung Han Yun – Lighting Designer

Review: Leave to Remain, Lyric Hammersmith

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(Photo: Johan Persson)

 

Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Described as a modern love story, Leave to Remain, blends vibrant compositions by Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, with a stylised poignant book by writer Matt Jones. It spiritedly navigates the complexities of modern relationships, mixed with toxic masculinity, multiculturalism, recreational drug use and penetrable city culture. A diverse story for our time and our city, wouldn’t you say?

The narrative tenderly follows young, gay couple Obi and Alex, who decide, after only a ten month relationship to get married. The immediacy, a result of Alex‘s visa coming to an abrupt end as he chooses to not move with his company to the Middle East and wishes to stay with Obi, decisively not returning to America either. Marriage to Obi, thus giving Alex his International Leave To Remain, ultimately providing the work with it’s namesake, whilst broaching the difficulty of relationships that span cultures and continents. A worthwhile commentary considering the cultural vibrancy of London, (the city setting of the work). However as the pair seek to form a union, it appears they don’t know much about each other’s past and must face their families together. It is here we learn of Obi’s strict Nigerian father who cast him out at 16, and witness a piercing exegesis on ingrained cultural defamation towards homosexuality and its psychological effect, particularly with Obi hiding this from Alex. As Obi laments his family missing out on all of the important moments in his life and tries to persuade them to attend, Alex’s family are seemingly more open, flying across the world to be there for the big day. Yet, even his family aren’t as united as they appear, and Alex’s past addictions and life attempts come to light. Making Leave to Remain a powerful portrait of the modern concept of self, consanguinity, the gay lifestyle and parental relationships. Think Kinky Boots’ Not My Father’s Son with a fresher, more indie vibe. (*Listen to Shame from the show).

It is interesting that a piece following the struggle of an ex-drug addict and his relapse in the face of mounting pressure (caused by an uncertain future), opened just as a study was released claiming that eels in the Thames were showing levels of hyperactivity due to large amounts of cocaine presenting itself in waste water. A reflection of the prevalent and very real recreational drug culture in London. Thus, it is worth mentioning that Leave to Remain’s commentary on avocational drug usage is mature and palpable, commendable as many attempts at such, glamourise or over exaggerate. We see Obi and friends trying to hide their use of cocaine from Alex before a party, this is the first act of true compassion we witness from Obi towards Alex, Obi attempting to protect him through concealment. What ensues is an extraordinarily slick and precise, stylised movement sequence, demonstrating the drug’s affect on Obi and friends as they enjoy a night out together. Yet, these movement sequences continue to come thick and fast throughout the piece. They are wonderfully unique and of possibly the best execution we have ever seen in terms of fluidity and power. But most importantly, they do much to tie the work together, linking back to drug use and indicating Alex’s prior substance abuse, demarking it as an important social concept, whilst also generally demonstrating the pain, anguish and euphoria of the protagonists as they navigate the possibility of a future together. These lucid sequences particularly thrive due to the strength of the ensemble who gel together flawlessly, aptly performing the complexities and accents.

The connectivity of these laxations thus conveying the fundamentals of the piece, particularly relationships and the delicate balance required in order to sustain them. Whether they are that of a parent-child/father-son dynamic or of marriage and sanctity. Therefore Leave to Remain provides an excellent exposé on propinquity, not only does it explore the possibility of a marriage between Obi and Alex alongside their dysfunctional relationships with their parents, it also highlights that even marriages that appear perfect aren’t always what they seem. This is where the work delicately fades in on and dissects Obi’s parents marriage, subtly showing his mother’s disagreement with his father’s religiously steered disapproval of his sexuality and the cutting of Obi out of their lives, we are directed towards the love she holds for her son combined with a fear to speak up in order to endure her marriage. Similarly the snide comments from Alex’s father in response to his mother’s excitement and expropriation, tenuously point towards martial problems with separation on the cards. The piece ultimately pointing out that marriage is a giving and taking, reciprocal agreement. It is a commitment to be the other person’s reason to stay. Much like Obi is Alex’s reason to stay in the UK emotionally, as well as literally, as the marriage effectively grants him International Leave To Remain. Therefore the choreography set to Okereke’s score, combines with Jones’ ingenious book eloquently, all vibrantly and sagaciously tackling the subject matter. An amicable venture that pays off, what is presented is gently balanced and sympathetic visual theatrical anarchism, that is not only truthful but affectionate and raw. The vibrancy of the compositions reflecting the millennial, indie, city-slicker/party lifestyle, despite bleak times and adversity, clearly the life-blood of Okereke himself. With the book also giving the character’s much needed dimension and wit.

Though, it is important to note that there is something strikingly undeveloped about the work, Jones’ book is incredibly intelligible, yet the piece seems somewhat predictable. Whilst Okereke’s score neglects a true stand out number, it plays like an indie-pop opera that continuously lands on the same level, not necessary utilising the talents of its performers. Nevertheless, as earlier mentioned the entire cast symbiotically work together incredibly well, whilst Tyrone Huntley, (Obi) and Billy Cullum, (Alex) provide heart-wrenching, gripping and pure performances that both astonish and delight. The set surrounding them, is beautifully understated, compiled of a grungy looking warehouse vibe, complete with upper walk way, some set pieces and screens that are brought on and off, suggestive of a converted building made into flats, (a commonality in the city). Ultimately allowing the performance to speak for itself. The lighting design alternatively coacts, dynamically working well to react and move with the movement sequences. Both techniques appropriately furnishing the overall offering.

To conclude, Leave to Remain still needs work to really push it to the next level. But it’s subject matter is intriguing and relevant, whilst the delivery is effervescent and modern. A clean and ultimately enjoyable watch. To find out more and book your tickets, click here.

*Kele Okereke also recorded the soundtrack and it is now available on Spotify and ITunes.

 

Obi – Tyrone Huntley
Alex – Billy Cullum
Diane – Johanna Murdock
Chichi – Aretha Ayeh
Grace – Rakie Ayola
Raymond – Sandy Batchelor
Damien – Arun Blair-Mangat
Kenneth – Cornell S. John
Brian – Martin Fisher

Written by Matt Jones
Written by Kele Okereke
Directed by Robby Graham
Designed by Rebecca Brower
Lighting by Anna Watson
Sound by Mike Thacker for Orbital
Music Supervisor – Phil Cornwell
Associate Musical Director / Kate Marlais
Casting Director – Will Burton CDG

 

 

The Twelve Shows of the Year – 2018 edition

This year has been a fantastic year for exceptional, affecting and meaningful theatre, something that should be celebrated loudly. This Year of the Women has been characterised by, and offered a plethora of exceptional pieces promoting gender equality and women’s power, whilst giving a voice to those that typically have none. Thus, let’s look back at the best incremental productions this year…

Once again, we’ll be counting down from twelve to one, our list comprising of musicals, plays and even works in progress, with the majority of productions as per usual coming from London-based venues, though there are regional exceptions. We would also like to offer two honourable mentions, firstly to the Old Vic’s return of their truly magical production of A Christmas Carol, the ensemble of which have been providing thrilling and awe inspiring performances this festive period, as well as a mention to the Young Vic’s Twelfth Night, whose community-led, musical retelling made Shakespeare incredibly vibrant and more importantly accessible to all. But without further ado, lets begin the countdown, here’s number twelve…
12. I’m Not Running, Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre)

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David Hare’s newest work intricately intersects politics with the personal, telling the tale of a fictional 2018, using a narrative that explores personal choices and their public consequences, through a twenty year intimate friendship.

Hare spiritedly writes for female empowerment, he anatomises the current political landscape and grippingly stages what it must be like for a women in the male-dominated topography of government, particularly capturing the consensus of women feeling as if they are not being taken seriously because of their gender. A sense wonderfully encapsulated in a section when politics and leadership are arrogantly mansplained to the female protagonist, affinities with which can only truly be shared by women. Hare furthermore, does not simply skate over issues such as FGM and the NHS, he bountifully sounds off about them.’ Read the rest of our review by clicking here.

I’m Not Running runs until January 31st. Click here to book tickets.

 
11. Fun Home, Young Vic.

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Winner of 5 Tony Awards, this electrifying Broadway phenomenon staging Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel took America by storm and colourfully exploded onto the British Stage this year. The show introduces it’s audience to Alison at three stages of her life. Memories of her 1970s childhood in a funeral home merge with her college love life and her coming out.

This delicate musical wonderfully examines Alison’s relationship with her father, through which she finds they had more in common than she thought. ‘Fun Home is both tragic and completely uplifting. It is a delicate personalised piece that packs a punch and is ultimately relatable even for those that do not find themselves to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community.’ The perfect way to celebrate pride month this year. Read more here.

Fun Home may have closed, but writers Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori will have yet another musical on the London stage when Violet opens in January at the Charing Cross Theatre, click here to find out more.

 
10. Wise Children, Old Vic

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A collective of collaborators brought together by Emma Rice cemented their formation this year with their first production Wise Children, from which they take their name, now touring the UK. Wise Children stages the impossible, that being Angela Carter’s last novel that spans over three generations.

It’s 23 April, Shakespeare’s birthday. Exploring the lives of Nora and Dora Chance, we join them on their 75th birthday and their father’s 100th Birthday as they reflect upon their father, or lack of a father, alongside their years in show-business providing an interesting commentary upon gender and perception, artistically contrasting utter joy with painful turmoil. ‘As a love letter to the theatre and not just Shakespeare, Wise Children wonderfully employs any and all theatrical techniques in order to exhibit the breadth of talent within the collective, from puppetry to actor-musicianship, song and dance, to burlesque, caricature and even a specifically generated gestural language similar to sign language. Each technique symbolically representative of the theatre industry and its trials, tribulations, skill requirements and unlimited boundaries.’ Read our full review here.

To find out more about the Wise Children collective or to book to see their current tour, click here.

 
9. Zelda, The Other Palace (Studio).

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With sounds similar to Post Modern Jukebox, Zelda brought the debaucherous 1920’s to The Other Palace Studio utilising an exquisite and satirical post modern score of reworked modern songs. Situated in the home of infamous flapper and socialite Zelda Fitzgerald and her husband F.Scott Fitzgerald, we meet the pair as they are throwing a party like no other… Packed with drama and wit, though the presentation was a work in progress and only semi staged, it provided so much viscerally, it wasn’t difficult to imagine a fully staged, extravagant party with huge numbers and intricate choreography to match.

With the piece filled with climactic and decisive drama, it is interesting to find that the work also has an absurdist and humorous layer to it. In the midst of these poignant moments the character’s sing modern, popularist songs such as Rihanna’s Umbrella and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy.’ To read the full review click here.

In the titular role Jodie Steele absolutely shone, and do not despair, though she has finished her stint in Heathers, she can currently be seen in Rock of Ages on tour across the country. Click here for more info.

 
8. The Lehman Trilogy, Lyttleton Theatre (National Theatre).

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Legendary director Sam Mendes returned to the National this year to direct Ben Power’s English version of Stefano Massini’s vast and poetic play. The story follows a family over three generations, a family and a company that changed the world. Providing a history of western capitalism in the scope of this famed banking family, the production following from the formation of their firm through to its collapse 163 years later, dramatically triggering the biggest financial crisis in history. With the narrative being told in three parts on a single evening this is an epic offering demonstrating the changing definition of the American Dream.

Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles provide a masterclass in acting and storytelling, effortlessly shifting from character to character between gender and age instantaneously. Engendered by the intricate revolving office space and representational style of the piece.

This illuminating and beautifully metaphoric work can be seen on Broadway next year and will then return to London for a West End run at then Picadilly Theatre in May. Click here for more information.

 
7. 100, 200, 300 Milligrams, John Thaw Studio (Tristan Bates Theatre, The Actor’s Centre)

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Presented as part of The Blacktress Season, a collaboration between the John Thaw Initiative and Blacktress UK, Gloria Obianyo debuted her self-written and directed one women show, a musical weaving of a tragic monologue. Executed magnificently, focalising her work meaningfully on mental health and responsibility.

Gloria writes with such a level of compassion and emotion, synergistically inclusive of an awarity of her audience and the story she is trying to tell, that her compositions feel immediately real and raw, particularly when entwined with a psychological, poignant monologue. Resulting in an instantaneous bond of affection and empathy being formed between her and her audience. Obianyo’s musical configurations enacting cleverly, feature pockets of witty relevant phraseology and well-crafted metaphors, something she, through her character Remi, jestingly comments upon‘ throughout, to read our full review click here.

Obianyo can currently be seen in Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre, a production filled with both spectacle and exceptional acting. The piece runs until January 19th, click here to book tickets.

 
6. The Lovely Bones, Birmingham REP.

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We were lucky enough to go to a pre-show talk with writer Alice Sebold in which she enlightened us not only upon her life and work, but the intricacies of this adaptation by award-winning playwright Bryony Lavery and we must say what she has to say is both fascinating and imminently worthwhile. Here Lavery takes Sebold’s delicate world and stages it so incredibly viscerally, giving it its own soundtrack and appearance whilst sustaining its heart wrenching qualities and stylistically allowing for the non-specifities of Susie’s heaven, making it aesthetically stunning, yet simple and imaginative. In short, it can be anything you want it to be.

With Susie dead, having been abused and brutally murdered, all she can do is watch her loved ones and her murderer as they go on living, in this beautifully tragic production, Susie is consummately played by Charlotte Beaumont backed by an ensemble of extraordinary actors who multirole terrifically. The piece providing a detailed examination into humanity, eloquently juxtaposing euphoria and tragedy.

The tour unfortunately finished in November, but hopefully it will be back soon.

 
5. Network, Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre)

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‘We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore’. Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s film of the same name, saw Bryan Cranston make his British stage debut toward the end of last year continuing into this year. Cranston gave the performance of a lifetime, supported by a powerful and large cast, including exquisite performances from Douglas Henshall and Michelle Dockery.

Network depicts a dystopian media landscape where opinion trumps fact. Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston), in his final broadcast, unravels live on screen. But when the ratings soar, the network seize on their newfound populist prophet, and Howard becomes the biggest thing on TV. Utilising cameras, live feeds and projections, this big budget work did much to construct the world of television and news broadcasting upon the National stage. Directed by the incomparable Ivo Van Hove, whose work proves to be continuously magnetic and electrifying, this truly was satire at it’s best. To read our review click here.

Cranston is reprising his award-winning role on Broadway this year. Click here for more info.

Additionally, Ivo Van Hove will next be directing All about Eve starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James. Click here for tickets. 

 
4. SIX Divorced. Beheaded. LIVE!

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If you don’t know what SIX is, where have you even been? Taking the UK by storm and becoming somewhat a phenomenon with fans young and old, SIX is a girl-power, pop musical and concert experience telling ‘her-story’ from the perspective of Henry VIII’s wives and importantly includes an all female cast and band. We’ve been lucky enough to follow this production since it’s work in progress days earlier this year, having seen it at the Arts Theatre pre-Edinburgh, since then we’ve caught it again a few times in London and Kingston. Currently finishing its UK tour, SIX will be heading back the Arts Theatre for an open ended run in January.

One of the most inventive elements of the work is its experimentalism with the musical theatre form. The piece has remained intuitively not linear, moves away from providing a strictly musical theatre score and is self-aware. It allows the queen’s to speak directly to their audience and become their own storytellers, the pop-genre, concert-style becoming the force driving the narrative, this form symbiotically validating stories told by women. Proving these can be witty, clever and engaging and do not have to be about, or even include men.’ To read our newest review click here.

To book tickets for the Queen’s return to London or to find out about the upcoming Chicago production, click here.

 
3. Sylvia, Old Vic.

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Featuring a past queen of the aforementioned SIX, Genesis Lynea in the titular role, and pop royalty Beverley Knight as her mother, this offering added a further girl-power / women’s rights explosion to the theatrical landscape this year. Billed as a hip-hop musical, Sylvia tells the story of the Pankhurst family and the suffragettes, from mobilising and militancy to politics and diplomacy. With inevitable stylistic parallels to Hamilton, this musical satirically and dramatically presented as a work in progress, left audiences begging for more, particularly for a cast recording. The perfect stand for women’s rights in a year characterised and celebrated for their past bravery.

Not only is the piece powerful and motivated, there is something so eloquently personal about the production as well, perhaps because it delves deeper into the lives of these powerful women and not just their involvement in the unions, particularly that of Sylvia. This makes her intrinsically identifiable with every women in the audience, as the varied occurrences in her life, such as love, lust, passion, family issues and beliefs are practically universal. This is superbly conveyed through the costuming as well, as from the neck down we get gorgeous and detailed period costumes, but above this the actors sport modern hair and make-up, reminding us that though they are portraying women from 100 years ago, they are women of today and have the same struggles as we do.’ The production unfortunately was caught in a media frenzy, to understand why and read our comprehensive open letter and review of Sylvia click here.

Sylvia will be back, to sign up to here more click here.

Alternatively, Sylvia herself, Genesis Lynea will be choreographing new musical Club Mex at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. Click here to book. 

 
2. Hadestown, Olivier Theatre (National Theatre)

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Rachel Chavkin directs this folk-opera non-specifically modernising the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice fusing American Folk Music and New Orleans Jazz. Hadestown crucially uses myth and music to comment upon the current socio-political climate in a polished and stylised, indirect manner.

Quite simply astonishing! Hadestown is wholeheartedly urgent and relevant, beautifully executed and thoroughly entertaining, the work is wonderfully inventive and imaginatively staged.’ To read our full review click here.

Hadestown runs at the National Theatre until the end of January, before transferring to Broadway. To find out more click here.

Rachel Chavkin will next be directing The American Clock at the Old Vic, click here to book. 

 
1. Emilia, Globe Theatre.

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In this Year of the Women, the Globe Theatre in Michelle Terry’s capable hands, has delivered astonishing work, promoting change whilst demonstrating its inclusivity and diversity. Highlights include their magical Sonnet Sunday event, their inclusive production of As You Like It and their ephemeral and historical Voter’s Choice ensemble that went on to tour the country. But the most affecting and sincere offering was in fact a brand new production, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia. A dramatisation of the life and times of Emilia Bassano, told through her eyes and by a cast of entirely women, this is the story of a poet and women’s activist who was detrimentally said to have been the muse for Shakespeare’s dark lady in his sonnets.

‘…a manifesto rather than an absolute history. It chooses to focus upon the biggest issues of the today and not just simply the oppression of women… Malcolm also touches upon themes of physical abuse and violence, sexualisation and the stereotypical journey of a women, i.e birth, marriage child birth and death… Therefore, Emilia is monumental, the performances are exceptional and the underlying manifesto is timeless.’ To read in full click here.

Emilia excitingly returns to the stage this year, this time at the Vaudeville Theatre. Click here to book your tickets and remember this is essential viewing!

The Globe’s next hotly anticipated venture will be an all female version of Shakespeare’s Richard II in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in 2019. Click here to find out more. 

 

As aforementioned this year has been an incredible year for theatre decisively characterised by activism. With this in mind, we are certainly looking forward to the year ahead! Stay tuned for our article detailing the most exciting productions set for 2019.

Oh and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

An Open Letter // Review: Sylvia, The Old Vic

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Yesterday The Stage published an article explaining how due to cast illness and the need to keep developing the show, The Old Vic’s newest production Sylvia, presented in collaboration with Sadler’s Wells, Kate Prince: The ZooNation Company and 14-18 Now, had to cancel it’s press night and perform a stripped down concert version instead. The feature was simply a news piece stating that there would be a future life for the show, but not a direct extension, due to 17c opening at the theatre shortly. However, upon sharing the write-up through their social channels an abundance of criticism flooded in for the production, and we thought that as there are no real reviews out there to defend this wonderful cast and creative team, that it was our duty to say something.

Sylvia is a historical repurposing of the narrative around the humble beginnings of the women’s suffrage movement and their eventual acquisition of the vote for women, rotating on the axis of the formidable Pankhurst family. It is delivered musically through hip-hop and brings together a multitalented and ethnically diverse ensemble of actors. Focussing upon Sylvia Pankhurst and her vital role in the campaign for women’s rights, yet delving further into the price it cost her, commenting upon how the passion and politics tore her entire family apart.

This year marks 100 years since the suffrage movement encouraged and subsequently celebrated the passing of The Representation of the People Act, allowing women aged 30 and over with a certain amount of property to vote. As well as extending the local government franchise to include women aged 21 and over. However with women still struggling worldwide to secure true equality with that of men, this subject matter is outwardly politically urgent, shedding a light on gender imbalance then and now. This production is thus reactive, fitting into the canon, as identified by The Independent, of ‘woke musicals’. A new wave initiated by, but not limited to Hamilton. These new wave works are ‘at the forefront of conversations around race, gender, sexuality and identity’ without being reliant on presenting something classic or traditional. It seems these intuitive pieces are representing the sentiment of the Millennial and Gen Z generations, who want to both be challenged and want art to outwardly challenge the way things are. But it is for this reason that this very commentary had to be written. Sylvia is all of the above, but not only does it immediately challenge gender issues, it converses on the subject of sexuality, not shying away from the rumours of Christabel Pankhurst’s speculated affliction for women. But most importantly, much like Hamilton, it comments upon race, bolstering a diverse cast, many of which are BAME actors, playing historical figures who would of course have been white. As writer and choreographer Kate Prince states this isn’t a documentary, it’s art. So why should they appear 100% historically accurate? ‘We’re not addressing an even playing field here. If there needs to be a long period of time where we ask more black and Asian actors to take leading roles, then why not. We have to redress that imbalance.’ Despite this there are still ridiculous gripes over Beverly Knight portraying Emmeline Pankhurst being publicly shared, many of which appeared in the comments section of The Stage article via their Facebook page. And this is exactly why BAME actors should be portraying these characters. For. For so many years minorities have been viewed as inferior, well clearly and disgustingly so, by some they are still viewed in that respect, so of course they should star in a show about searching and fighting for equality, just as they and their ancestors have been doing for generations. It is as much about the historical struggle for gender equality, as it is about the on-going battle against racial underrepresentation and discrimination. Furthermore, Sylvia utilises the vehicle of hip-hop as it has excellent storytelling tendencies, a form developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans in the 1970s. With the genre having been developed by BAME individuals, then they are evidently the best to perform within the chosen style.

However, this is not where the internet trolls stopped. Others decided to turn on The Old Vic calling the whole affair a shambles and scorning them for even being bold enough to try to put the production on. How dare people comment in such a manner upon a work they more than likely haven’t seen and if they did see it, they didn’t see it in it’s final glorified form or appreciate the craftsmanship that has gone into it. These are more than likely middle class, over the age of 60 theatre-goers that don’t speak for the masses and are used to seeing the same old recycled straight plays written by white English or American males. Go back to Windsor, the next generation of theatregoers sincerely and with open arms welcomes woke musicals into the theatrical landscape.

We luckily saw Sylvia on a fully staged night, featuring the entire cast and though we know it still has to be reworked, we thought we’d share what we perceived regarding this incarnation as it blew our freaking minds! First and foremost the production documents Sylvia’s work alongside her sister Christabel and mother Emmeline for the Women’s Social and Political Union, it navigates the turmoil the family fell into as the union became more and more militant, (e.g bombs, arson, suicide). A notion subtly indicated through Prince’s wondrous contemporary choreography that thrills and excites, exceeding all else in excellence, it thus bolsters through-lines of militaristic movements and motifs such as salutes and then the standing to attention. The sentiment of the WSPU of ‘deeds not words’ encouraged many to act out and subsequently be arrested, again suggested through the choreography in the recurring imagery of the binding of the hands behind one’s back. It is for this reason, Sylvia falls out of favour with her mother and sister, becoming resistant to this militancy and their focus on winning the vote for the elite minority of women rather than for the many, aligning herself with the socialist Independent Labour Party instead. She, upon explosion from the WSPU, helped to form the East London Federation of Suffragettes in 1914. Therefore the production delivers the historical narrative truthfully and viscerally, bringing to the forefront the multitude of elements and activists that filtered into women eventually getting the vote in 1918, situating the piece broadly within the political landscape as it highlights Sylvia’s socialist tendencies, her close and presumably romantic relationship with Keir Hardie, leader of the Labour Party and further follows Winston Churchill’s early career and his opposition towards suffragism, as allegedly instructed by his mother. It is a consequential in-depth exploration of class politics and intersectional feminism. The political thematics alluded to by the staging, the raised rostra used to elevate actors, is suggestive of a political podium used by politicians to deliver speeches to the masses. Ultimately, the piece doesn’t just provide a sluggish recantation of the facts and themes, Sylvia is incredibly abrasive, witty and poignant, as well as inclusiveness of this high-stakes, thrilling narrative. With a varied, dynamic and triumphant score, it is simply unfaultable, add in the breath-taking choreography and it’s a winning formula for sure.

Not only is the piece powerful and motivated, there is something so eloquently personal about the production as well, perhaps because it delves deeper into the lives of these powerful women and not just their involvement in the unions, particularly that of Sylvia. We begin by learning about her close relationship with her father and brother, as well as her fondness for art, we see her personal opinion on matters whilst she tries to measure up to her family’s expectations and a romance blossom between her and Keir Hardie, before watching Sylvia distance herself from her family and subsequently start her own ménage. This makes Sylvia intrinsically identifiable with every women in the audience, as the varied occurrences in her life, such as love, lust, passion, family issues and beliefs are practically universal. This is superbly conveyed through the costuming as well, as from the neck down we get gorgeous and detailed period costumes, but above this the actors sport modern hair and make-up, reminding us that though they are portraying women from 100 years ago, they are women of today and have the same struggles as we do. Furthmore although the costumes appear uniform, suggestive towards the militaristic sentiments of the WSPU, each female actor adorns a slightly different and unique skirt, again humanising them as individuals who stand together as one. At the centre of this piece is a complicated family, the Pankhursts, The staging of their trials and tribulations humanises them into more than just a name in a textbook, they each exhibit an unshakeable desire for something more than they have. Though they are eventually splintered, their unending passion for the cause forces the over arching theme of female solidarity and empowerment to loom large, emotively shown in the large group numbers in which the female ensemble come together to oppose the male dominance enforced over them. Musically, as aforementioned the score is variegated, it bolsters gorgeous and powerful accapella numbers, tense and soaring ballads, clever yet hilarious rap sections, sweet and sombre duets and those all important hard-hitting group numbers staged excellently with Prince’s vivacious choreography. The show, having been billed as a hip-hop musical, rotates around the genre, incorporating elements such as grime, R&B, gospel, funk and soul but even goes as far as to reference famous artistes such as Jay-Z, Eminem and Dizzee Rascal. A cast recording recording is urgently needed. Standout moments, (though there are a plethora), include the plaintive end of Act One depicting the 1910 Black Friday demonstration, here the Suffragettes stand hand in hand forming a long chain and are repeatedly and heart-breakingly beaten down by the law enforcement whilst they sing in unison a rousing and rallying cry, as well a certain character’s anti-suffrage rap portions which are to put it bluntly farcical, but expertly delivered both comically and technically. This production urgently does not shy away from the gritty reality of the fight. At the end of the day women died for this cause. Sylvia therefore tastefully and artistically stages Emily Davison’s suicide in front of the King’s Horse, as well as the force feeding endured by many in prison followed by their subsequent suffering under the Cat and Mouse Act. It is hard to watch, but these sections, detrimental to the narrative and to the understanding of the magnitude of the acts, are expertly done.

Finally, the actors. There is so much to be said about this remarkable ensemble, but it is difficult to convey how polished and committed they were in words. Beverly Knight is stone-faced and despotic as the ambitious Emmeline Pankhurst, as usual her voice is utopian. Similarly, Genesis Lynea in the titular role has a distinct and dextrous vocal ability, managing to blaze through some complicated and wordy raps without batting an eyelid, she has an pragmatic and subtle acting style that draws her audience in creating an unbreakable and sincere bond between herself and them. As her sister Christabel, Witney White delivers a courageous and layered performance of a character complicated by her sexuality and a desire to leave a mark in history at any cost. As Sylvia’s love interest Keir Hardie, John Dagleish wields a sweet sincerity, matched by the unique and quaintness of his voice. Dagleish develops an honest picture of a man convoluted by his moral desire to do the right thing whilst up against harsh opposition from within his own party. Delroy Atkinson’s Winston Churchill, matched the man’s famous characteristics perfectly resulting in an infallible caricature. Similarly Jade Hackett is satirical and uproarious, formidably pandering to her fully engaged audience. Carly Bawden, Verity Blythe and Izuka Hoyle, the foremost and latter us having seen previously, are all adept and charming performers who evolve into their various roles instantaneously and do not fail to provide enchanting performances with unshakable vocals. The rest of the ensemble are equally as thrilling, each brandishing superb musicality, physical strength and enviable comedic abilities.

To conclude, Sylvia is a ridiculously good time, crafted to perfection and provides endless meaning-making, whilst remaining historically accurate. We cannot wait for the show’s future as theatre like this is so important and urgent.

 
Kate Prince & Priya Parmar – Book
Josh Cohen & DJ Walde – Music
Kate Prince – Additional Music
Kate Prince – Lyrics
Josh Cohen & DJ Walde – Additional Lyrics
Kate Prince – Director & Choreographer
Ben Stones – Designer
Natasha Chivers – Lighting
Clement Rawling – Sound
Jessica Ronane CDG – Casting
Michael Henry – Musical Supervisor/Vocal Arranger
Josh McKenzie – Musical Director/Band Leader
Carrie-Anne Ingrouille – Associate Director/Choreographer
Andy Purves – Associate Lighting
Nell Ranney – Baylis Assistant Director

Delroy Atkinson – Winston Churchill
Carly Bawden – Clementine Churchill, Annie Kenney
Verity Blyth – Adela Pankhurst, Mrs Scurr
John Dagleish – Keir Hardie, Lord Curzon
Jade Hackett – Lady Jennie Churchill, Edith Garrud, Narrator
Todd Holdsworth – H. G. Wells, Silvio Corio
Izuka Hoyle – Emily Davison, Lillie Hardie
Beverley Knight – Emmeline Pankhurst
Genesis Lynea – Sylvia Pankhurst
Jaye Marshall – Dance Captain
Tachia Newall – Lloyd George, Lord Cromer, Narrator
Maria Omakinwa – Ada
Karl Queensborough – Harry Pankhurst, Sir Almroth Wright, H.H Asquith
Ross Sands – George Bernard Shaw, Richard Pankhurst
Witney White – Christabel Pankhurst
Elliotte Williams-N’Dure – Flora Drummond