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!

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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

 

Review: The Prisoner, Dorfman Theatre (National Theatre)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

Mesmerising and sincere.

For an extremely limited run, (September 17th – October 4th), the Dorfman Theatre presents Peter Brook and collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne’s The Prisoner. Having opened at Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris on March 6th, the piece is a short and sweet allegorical story-telling, that’s lasts for a pacey and exhilarating 1 hour 15 minutes. It bolsters a similar vibe to Matthew Spangler’s acclaimed adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, utilising a storyteller for direct address, the Visitor, (Donald Crumpler), intermittently between a charming and wholesome moral dialogue. These ingredients formulating, much like The Kite Runner, into a rousing recountal. The character of the Visitor is based on Brook himself, he states the narrative is a story that he actually lived 40 years ago in Afghanistan. Though this base-setting is the same as The Kite Runner, the Visitor arrives in a village, somewhere. We are never given a location, thus referring to Brook’s ensnaring notion that the piece should be universal and not locative. He states that though the work is much like a Greek tragedy, based on a real memory of a man who had once been condemned to sit outside of a prison and the look in his eyes, that had been so strong that it stayed with Brook, the narrative fosters universal themes that he distinguishes as being for the here and now, and he would be right. Brook and Estienne’s piece is incendiary and incites an on-going dialogue.

The thematics and not just the composition align Brook’s work with that of Spangler’s, as both pieces hedonise universal themes such as guilt and redemption. The Prisoner forming a provocative study of what it means to be free, can we as human beings ever be truly absolved? The protagonist, is thus a seemingly free man and is shown over a period of time serving twenty years for a crime by sitting outside of a prison, rather than behind it’s bars. He is not threatened into staying in that position, he is simply told it is what he must do, and that only he can know when it is time to leave, though it could be argued the not-knowing of what might happen if he were to preemptively leave is a deterrent. Thus the work questions can humans as a civilised species ever be free, or do guilt and internal morality form a kind of ‘mental prison’, alongside societal/cultural constraints or impositions such as justice, punishment, suffering and repentance. The Prisoner, therefore plays with the ideology behind why the Man sits there, ‘is it a choice, or a punishment?’. The fact he is un-named and not given an identity, leaves the lingering question of ‘who is this man?’. This of course makes him the placeholder for anyone who commits a crime or makes a detrimental mistake. Leading the piece into a wider commentary upon criminal rehabilitation, due to an intriguing character development of the Man throughout the piece. Having brutally murdered his father, who jumped into bed with his sister following their mother’s death, the love he feels for his sibling is the root of his rage. This rage causing him to commit this deadly crime, but it is an unforgivable or repent-able crime, when his father’s actions are somewhat condemnable? Once tried, his uncle Ezekiel negotiates the punishment to be that of sitting outside of the prison, in some eyes this could be deemed a lighter sentence. But being alone and never truly confined proves to be a mental tribulation. Once alone the Man befriends a rodent, who unfortunately turns on him and bites him. We see his anger boil over as it must have done when confronting his own father, resulting in him killing the rodent, mirroring the Man’s murder of his own father. Yet as time passes we see the Man start to rehabilitate, he befriends Marvuso a man whose tribe live nearby and who is an executioner at the prison, as well as some guards from the prison who come and drink with him, he invites them back anytime. The Man seems to find some sort of inner peace as his anger fades and he does not listen to temptation, in the form of his sister, who visits and begs him to come home. (She has had his baby and we come to realise that his crime is not just murder but like his father’s, incest). So with the character of Marvuso being that of an executioner, there is proposition of: should criminals be allowed to rehabilitate, like the Man and how? Those that are executed are never afforded the chance, but those that are imprisoned, are they given the tools and surroundings for empirical change? The Man is the exception, he thrives through the visits from his friends and his own sanctity. Therefore the piece asks a series of profound questions, particularly about whether justice can be served whilst allowing the condemned to reform.

However, although we found ourselves enjoying the work, it did not instantaneously feel as if we were receiving any of the phenomenology back, (such as that dictated above). This initially left us unable to to converse in a dialogue about the piece, it was as if it was delivered far too subtly for any form of affect. Performing more like a light-hearted and warming story rather than an urgent, moralising parable. Nonetheless, this is as much a strength as it is a weakness, meaning The Prisoner becomes for many a personalised experience. Something to be engaged with on whatever level is chosen by the interpreter, (the audience). This has much to do with Brook’s practice, empty space theatre, as coined in his 1964 book The Empty Space. The practice focussing substantially on simplicity and allowing for both the words and the performance of them to drive the meaning-making, leaving room for an abundance of imagination, hence the practically empty stage space. Dressed simply with rocks and sticks, the location is changeable through the audience’s perception but primarily suggestive of the outdoor clearing the prisoner sits in whilst facing the prison. He looks out towards the prison, but in actuality into the faces of the audience that watch him, the audience represent society, this demonstrates that the prison exists because society exists, it is a societal construct. Again prompting the question of whether prison is the best punishment for the condemned. Thus the pleasure comes in the simplicity of the piece. Yet there are still some intricacies to be admired; upon murdering his father, there is a scene in which Ezekiel physically punishes the Prisoner puncturing his nephew’s skin. Ezekiel wields a large stick for this purpose and later the same object is used to bound the Prisoner and then demarks the area of his initial cell, representing the various elements of reprehension and punishment. Thus the piece adopts an abundance of intricate symbolic elements in order to enthral its audience. Technically the piece is also stunning, lighting designer Philippe Vialatte excels, creating strong semblances of both setting and atmosphere. We remember a beautiful moment as the lights rose and dimmed repeatedly to create the sense of time passing from night to day over and over again as the Prisoner sat motionless.

Aside from this, the performances were equally enthralling. Brook and Estienne bring together here a cast of acclaimed actors from around the world, for the purpose of promoting their message of universality, as no matter where you are from, there will always be a dialogue on the notion of freedom and punishment. Therefore, this diversity filters down even into the range of producers it is brought to audiences by; C.I.C.T. and Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord lead, with National Theatre, The Grotowski Institute, Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen, Yale Repertory Theatre and Theatre For A New Audience – New York, all co-producing. Though it is of course not just for the purpose of diversity that this ensemble are brought together, they are each uniquely enchanting. Omar Silva, (the Man) and Donald Crumpler, (the Visitor) are captivating, with Silva delivering a heartbreaking and inviolable characterisation, his physicality is simply impeccable, yet it is his eyes that say it all. With him capturing effortlessly this sense of a man whose eyes show right into his withered and repenting soul. Hiram Abeysekera’s Marvuso is similarly traversely powerful yet instantly likeable, whilst Hervé Goffings’ Ezekiel appears placating and wise, much like a voice of reason amidst a world that lacks foresight. Alongside them is Kalieaswari Srinivasan, she is scintillating as the peart and eloquently piteous Nadia, the Man’s sister. This ensemble are subsequently delightful in their malleability, creating a variety of beguiling soundscapes and even successfully multi-rolling.

The Prisoner runs at the Dorfman Theatre until October 4th click here to book now.

 

Text and stage direction – Peter Brook & Marie-Hélène Estienne
Lighting – Philippe Vialatte
Set Elements – David Violi
Costume assistant – Alice François
With Hiran Abeysekera, Hervé Goffings, Omar Silva, Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Donald Sumpter

 

Review: Heathers the Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Greetings and salutations! Having previously visited and reviewed Heathers the Musical at The Other Palace, this will merely be a small anatomisation of the West End transfer as for the most part it is the same show. But the ensuing dialogue will aim to traverse the crucial changes and how these have affected the overall experience. To read our original ‘Review: Heathers the Musical, The Other Palace’ click here, or carry on reading for a lilliputian update. 

Heathers is based upon the cult classic film of the same name starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, released back in 1988, hence the 80’s setting for the musical as well as its omnipotent commentary upon the era throughout. It follows ‘nobody’ Veronica Sawyer who has unsuspectingly found herself amongst the popular crowd, ‘the Heathers’, three girls ‘made of solid teflon’ and ironically all named Heather. As she realises she does not approve of their subjugating attitude, she falls into a relationship with JD, Jason Dean, everything seems to be alright from that point on despite ‘the Heathers’ now hating her, that is until she realises JD has a flair for murder having grown up with a violent father who owns a ‘deconstruction company’, revelling in the explosion of property. Therefore Heathers is both a melodramatic and satirical high school tale of love and turmoil, set to a rock-pop score. Culminating in an ultimate message of acceptance, well after a series of murders, what’s not to love?

As aforementioned, the musical itself is exquisite with a derisive book and catchy score, yet whilst it was substantially accompanied by some killer performances (particularly Jodie Steele and Jamie Muscato), there were several elements missing or weak in delivery during The Other Palace stint. Thus preventing this production from hitting its premium aspirations, (an unacceptable shortfall due to its premium prices). However we are thrilled to proclaim that many of these have been addressed, culminating in both a stimulating and honest performance, balanced excellently with dry satire and wit. 

One issue we previously found to be prevalent was within the dimensions of the stage space. Limited even more so by the set, these were not appropriate for the size of ensemble and thus harmed the translation of Gary Lloyd’s vivacious choreography. However, now upon a West End stage with a much deeper rake, the tweaked and definitively improved choreography finally has its moment to shine. Delivered enthusiastically with endless power and flair by the ensemble, it reflects the era perfectly, conjoining with the embedded commentary upon the 80s aeon. Even the set, which we previously found to be cheap-looking and uninventive, visibly appears finer. The wider space in front of the static elements complements the design, allowing the actors to dress it, rather than it dress them. Similarly, there is finally some lighting to get excited about. With more sophisticated and dynamic designs appearing, particularly in the development of the Heather’s coloured spots corresponding to their outfits. These are used to hold a tableaux at the end of ‘Candy Store’ and the subsequent reprise, this held image thus physicalises and echoes the dominion they hold over Veronica through their imposing, peer-pressuring tendencies. Furthermore, the lighting additions implanted into the set utilised for instance in ‘Dead Gay Son’, amp up the spectacle and provide a finite demonstration that thought has in fact been put into this all important theatrical component. 

Not only is the lighting now compelling and meaningful, so is the direction. For instance, as Martha comes to suspect JD may have something to do with the ‘body count’ at Westerberg High, Veronica faces the decision of whether to help her friend in an investigation by providing JD’s locker combination, (though Veronica knows exactly what has been going on), or whether to instead throw Martha off the scent by hurting her emotionally with some ‘home truths’. As the tension mounts around Veronica making her choice, she begins to adopt the same physicalities and posture as Heather Chandler stood beside her, completely matching the mannerisms by the time she makes what can be seen as the selfish choice, protecting herself and the truth rather than her friend’s feelings. (This hurting of Martha, ultimately failing to protect Martha’s life as she seeks to end it through despair, meaning JD wasn’t necessarily the mortal worry here). Thus demonstrating Veronica’s transcendence into becoming the monster she sought to destroy. We see earlier inklings of this transcendence at the start of ‘Never Shut Up Again’, through a more subtle mirroring of posture between Heather Chandler and Veronica. Though Heather Duke seeks to, and somewhat succeeds in replacing Chandler, this suggests perhaps Veronica will replace her instead. (Which of course she does, but not necessarily in the way many would expect). And then later during ‘Yo Girl’, the ensemble sing ‘come join Heather in hell’, and what ensues, having hurt her best friend, is Veronica taking her place at the side of Chandler with Kurt and Ram upon the raised rostra, adopting again the same stance, indicating Veronica’s true fall from grace by this point. A position she however, almost instantaneously snaps out of, as she formulates a plan to potentially undo her pacifism. This simple movement stipulates the internalised decision marvellously. 

Further directorial improvements come in the form of Veronica’s overall characterisation and the chemistry between her and JD, (Carrie Hope Fletcher and Jamie Muscato). Most importantly, a spark is prominent in their performance that didn’t previously materialise, resulting in the relationship transcribing as both natural and electric, the two actors playing off of each other enchantingly. Veronica blossoming into a tangible and complex character, percolating innocence and sincerity, whilst the character’s witty sarcasm and awkward quirks exude all else. Avoiding being overdone, this makes her relatable, funny and most importantly likeable. Similarly Muscato’s JD becomes even more psychotic and sadistic, (well, if that is even possible). Twisting and contorting his face effortlessly from pure bliss to devilish grimace, Muscato generates an unnerving effect, proving both his aptitude and malleability. Congruently the pair are dynamite, pardon the pun! They kiss, cuddle and flirt constantly, even in the background of the action, only heightening the notion of a burning first teen romance. This is all followed up by a newly added break up scene in Act 2, featuring brand new song ‘I Say No!’. This new number is more or less a rallying cry for women everywhere! It advocates the fact that there is no guilt or shame in saying no, especially if it is what is best for you. Veronica distances herself from JD, realising that he’s no good for her, as intoxicating and addictive as a drug. She also highlights the need for him to seek the psychiatric help that she cannot provide, an ironic notion because in a later scene her parents say they are sending her to ‘see a shrink’, to which she retorts it’s not her that needs the help. This song is also a dynamic plot device as it alleviates the pair’s break up to being far less abrupt. Thus providing an explanation for JD’s betiding devilish plotting, like something has finally well and truly snapped.

To conclude Heathers has well and truly improved, pushing the production within the boundaries of a premium experience, perhaps in a way justifying the premium prices. Though they still could be amended to suit the younger and less financially stable audience it attracts. But nevertheless, Heathers and its cast and creative teams will undoubtedly do well in the next West End awards season. To book click here. 

 

Director: Andy Fickman

Choreographer/Associate director: Gary Lloyd

Designer: David Shields

Lighting: Ben Cracknell

Sound: Dan Samson

Casting: Will Burton

Musical Supervisor: Gary Hickeson

 

Veronica Sawyer – Carrie Hope Fletcher

Jason Dean – Jamie Muscato

Heather Chandler – Jodie Steele

Heather Duke – T’Shan Williams

Heather McNamara – Sophie Isaacs

Ms Fleming – Rebecca Lock

Martha Dunnstock – Jenny O’Leary

Kurt Kelly – Chris Chung

Ram Sweeney – Dominic Andersen

Ram’s Dad – Nathan Amzi (Sergio Pasquariello in this performance)

Kurt’s Dad – Jon Boydon

Lauren Drew, Charlotte Jaconelli, Alex James Hatton, Olivia Moore, Sergio Pasquariello, John Lumsden, Merryl Ansah

Review: Zelda: A Post Modern Musical (Workshop), The Other Palace Studio

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

There will be no experience more ephemeral than Zelda: A Post-Modern Musical at the Studio of The Other Palace. This respectivity makes it veraciously difficult to try and write about something that will never be again. Although it may help to shape the next incarnation or convince investors to invest and an audience to attend. We as human beings try so hard to capture and document everything, particularly theatre, whether that be through reviews, articles and interviews, photographs, cast recordings or video archive documentations and cinema broadcasts. But these can never truly reflect the experience, as it first and foremost lacks liveness. A live performance thus acting as a dialogue with the audience, the actors reacting to the imminence of the crowd before them. And as each audience changes this means no one performance can ever be the same as the last, even though it is of the same show with the same actors. However with Zelda: A Post Modern Musical there is an added ripple to this, as a workshop the piece was constantly being rewritten even after each semi-staged performance and is probably still being done so now.  Supervening that the piece we witnessed on the Friday night of The Other Palace stint can never be even closely replicated again, therefore though this review talks about a performance, it should be taken as a review of an idea that will hopefully fall in front of an audience once again. Furthermore as a workshop showing, the piece actively requires imagination, with scripts in hand, representative costuming and props, a description of the action circulated beforehand and the commentaries of what it should look like ongoing. Nevertheless, the piece shone as it was almost effortless to imagine being in the swinging 1920s, (the decade of the piece), at an extravagant party in New York, the imagined profligacy reminiscent of the recent Immersive Ensemble’s The Great Gatsby in London and Broadway’s newest opening, Moulin Rouge. Meaning there is great potential with a full staging to craft an entirely new theatrical world, this world hopefully fostering a truly beautiful and dynamic work with some sizzling choreography and excessively voluptuary design.

Zelda is written by Victoria Gimby, based upon an idea by Christopher Clegg and focusses upon loose cannon Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of famous Gatsby writer F.Scott Fitzgerald, meaning it’s not surprising the imagined setting is like Gatsby especially as he supposedly wrote much of his work from real instances and as the piece mentions, from Zelda’s diaries. Zelda highlights the titular character’s socialite frivolity and wildness alongside her ambition, naivety and inner demons. Set during one of the pair’s ‘famous parties’ it breeches the supposed problems within their marriage such as infidelity, Zelda’s declining mental health, alcoholism and their financial crisis, Scott being unable to sell his latest novel, alluding to the fact his work was not popular until after his death and that he wrote short stories to sell in order to fund their decadent lifestyle, the pair being seen as New York celebrities of the 1920s Jazz Age. Yet the fact the piece chooses to tell her story and not his, his name being the one that we all know, puts the work highly on trend. A part of this new Her-story genre, historical retellings and reimaginings that choose to tell the story of the little known woman or women behind the prominent man. Repurposing history to tell a different side. Zelda like many other Her-stories arrives with perfect timing, within the Year of the Women. 100 years since Suffrage won women the right to vote and though the battle for equality worldwide rages on, theatre pieces like this one are doing their bit to tell stories where women are at the forefront. For instance Emilia recently opened at Shakespeare’s Globe telling the story of Shakespeare’s dark lady, whilst Six returns to the Arts Theatre this month recanting the misfortune of Henry VIII’s wives told by them and Sylvia is about to open at the Old Vic focussing on Sylvia Pankhurst and the battle for the vote. Each giving power back to the woman.

As aforementioned, Gimby, with some artistic license, breeches the supposed problems within Zelda and Scott’s marriage, allowing for proliferated drama and tension with an overall exciting narrative. She adroitly uses character’s to signify these struggles. Scott is his own worst enemy so he represents his own alcoholic tendencies, whilst the MC signifies the pair’s self-deprecating party nature and Max, Scott’s editor symbolises their financial worries, he is concerned about the pair’s spending and when Zelda learns of the crisis she tries to sell her own work via Max, demonstrating her often belittled ambition and her overshadowment by her husband, with Scott reacting violently. Ernest Hemingway, friend of Scott and a man deeply disliked by Zelda, is thus the placeholder for the couple’s infidelity, he relishes in telling Zelda about an affair her husband is having and reminds her of the affair she had with a pilot in France. And finally Zelda represents her own demon, her mental health. She historically spent years of her life in a mental hospital having been diagnosed with schizophrenia. This is alluded to towards the end of the piece as she breaks down in utter despair, her world crashing around her, yet she chooses euphoria in her own new world away from Scott as she struggles to, but eventually let’s go of him.

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. Making the work a Jukebox Musical, but don’t think of cheesy Mamma Mia-esque performances, with the songs shoe horned in. Think Post Modern Jukebox, Ben Papworth’s musical arrangements present the songs with a 1920s swing and Jazz treatment, it is here Zelda becomes a Post-Modern Musical, self-referential to the style of the period setting, with modern subject matter. The tension is instantly broken with the absurdity of the song, yet the arrangements are exquisite and of such a quality that you are instantaneously pulled back in, especially when the insane harmonies and mashups hit. Though there is a small part of us that wonders would original music be better? Although is it worth sacrificing the dynamic that has already been crafted so well? Maybe not. Yet it is worth mention some of the more high voltage scenes did seemed rushed in this initial staging and therefore some of the poignant moments simply need to be held for longer and the transitions from which more artfully crafted.

However, overall Zelda is looking like an exciting, fresh British musical which we cannot wait to re-emerge. Now for a note on this particular performance, though the casting will inevitably change and swell for a larger staging, the small cohort of eight actors should be applauded, they facilely multi-roled and nailed the complexity of the music well within the written style whilst maintains the party atmosphere. Dougie Carter as the MC/Ernest Hemingway and Matt Corner as F.Scott Fitzgerald were both particularly enigmatic, but Jodie Steele as Zelda, (as seen recently in Heathers), absolutely stole the show. She was abrasive yet innocent, brash, bold, kooky and brimming with clarity. Her voice is astonishing, yet her characterisation and physicality exude all else, leaving her a force to be reckoned with. This group collectively managed to tell and sustain this invigorating new narrative dextrously, whilst Ben Papworth’s three-man band also did a commendable job of emanating the 1920s Jazz Age. So, to find out more about Zelda: A Post-Modern Musical click here.

Written by: Victoria Gimby
Based upon an idea by: Christopher D. Clegg
Arranged & Musically Directed by: Ben Papworth
Additional Arrangements by: Sean Green
Directed by Jessica Williams

Rosalind: Geri Allen
Max: Chris Aukett
MC/Ernest Hemingway: Dougie Carter
F.Scott Fitzgerald: Matt Corner
Young Man/Pilot: Chris Jenkins
Sara/Tallulah: Laura Mansell
Eleanor: Esme Sears
Zelda Fitzgerald: Jodie Steele

Piano: Ben Papworth
Bass: Eric Rupert
Drums: Isis Dunthorne

 

Review: School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Enigma Quests

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Enigma Quests claim to ‘create experiences for those seeking to live out the life of an adventurer, explore new worlds and face challenges that will test their courage, quick thinking and creativity’, something the enterprise congruently succeeds at. 

Founded by Co-founders and QuestMasters Dmitri and Nargiza, Enigma Quests are one of the many escape-room hosting-bodies found in London and they are still growing, distinctly due to their superior popularity, acquired by their pure ingenuity and the marketability of the subject matter of their first Quest, which we got to experience on our visit, the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This Quest is of course a Harry Potter themed room, or series of rooms, not to give anything away, named so as to avoid any copyright infringement as it is not affiliated with the Warner Brothers franchise. Nevertheless the room is bursting with puzzles to satisfy Potter-heads and muggles alike. This is because Enigma do not simply create rooms within which to lock teams of people, but worlds that can bring participants out of their own and immerse them into a new and carefully designed one, we know we felt as if we were actually at Hogwarts and not in Central London on a Wednesday afternoon. Though they are themed, you do not need to know anything about the subject matter, so despite the game being aimed at fans of the wizarding world and the inclusion of many things relating to J.K Rowling’s work, the puzzles could be solved by those that know nothing of her creation, if those people even exist. And these puzzles are incredibly well thought out, requiring the use of different parts of the brain to solve them, similarly the intricate sets are wondrous and innovative, technologically assisted and littered with detail and constitution. The premise here is simple, the Games Master closes the door, but does not lock it, yes you are free to leave, and you have 60 minutes to pass six Hogwarts classes, completing your O.W.L.s with a grade of Outstanding, or Exceeds Expectations for only five classes completed and Acceptable for four. At which point you put on your very own wizards robe and get searching like a Hufflepuff and solving like a Ravenclaw, utilising later your Gryffindor bravery and Slytherin ambition, to get it all done.   The classes are as follows Arithmancy, History of Magic, Potions, Ancient Runes, Defence Against the Dark Arts and Charms. The passing of these classes form the narrative, a fundamental part that Enigma embeds within their games, this being the reasoning behind calling them Quests. It is true the creating of a narrative allows participants to become more immersed and more importantly, motivated to succeed. And with Enigma, you do not need to worry, if you get stuck, ask for help and as if by magic your Games Master appears through a tannoy system to assist with a clue. We asked only once and it was of course alluding to something one of us had mentioned only minutes prior. The voice also warns against anything you probably shouldn’t be doing, which we needed a few times to keep at bay a rather mischievous member of our team. Completing the task with 8 minutes to spare, we felt unstoppable and of course magical. Thus, allowing for plenty of time to take victorious pictures in front of the fire place with our Outstanding examination marks. It is here Enigma Quests make lasting memories that you can treasure, gifting you with a certificate and your celebratory photo via email. They are truly doing the whole experience thing right! Aided by their staff, who are outwardly friendly and welcoming, the member who greeted us in the foyer was very polite and hospitable and our Games Master was exceedingly gregarious and benevolent. It is here that our only overall gripe with the experience comes in. Why have a Games Master rather than a ‘Professor at the school overseeing the examinations or a fellow student’? If it is all about creating these worlds, why not utilise the staff in this. Notwithstanding, once in the room the Quests designed by Enigma are exquisite, they are much more than theatre, participants cannot be passive they must collaboratively take on a leading role in order to progress. 

Enigma are one of the most affordable and high-quality escape room facilities around and the fun doesn’t stop there, they currently have three Quests to choose from: INTERSTELLAR: ACROSS THE GALAXIES, THE MILLION POUND HEIST and SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY. So why not book on your visit today? Click here. 

 

Review: Emilia, Shakespeare’s Globe

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

A piece about Emilia’s time but wholeheartedly for our time.

Commissioned by Michelle Terry, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm presents brand-new play Emilia. Based upon the life of the first English, self-asserted female poet Emilia Bassano, (later Lanier), Malcolm’s Emilia recreates what it was like in The Globe during the Shakespearean era as it presents a newly written tale before it’s audience. Much like several works of Shakespeare, the plot is based upon historical fact and speculation, (even culminating with an epode of song, a song being a requirement of the Tudor and Stuart dramatic model). With the central figure being a published poet, author of the Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum and having been born of minor gentry, her father a royal musician, Emilia’s life subsequently became well documented, meaning Malcolm was able to write much of this play upon hardened fact and conjecture. Yet Emilia’s identity has seemingly been erased over the years, with us as a collective knowing very little about her, except from what the scholars tell us, which as suggested by the opening of the play is usually that she was a whore and the possible ‘dark lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets. This seems to be the driving force behind Malcolm’s writing, she states that her work is ‘to discover this brilliant woman and amplify her story’. Something that Malcolm crafts perfectly, we see why Emilia may have been written off as a harlot; in order to assure her standing, as an orphan she is seemingly forced into being the mistress of Henry Carey, first cousin of Elizabeth I, later she is entangled in a loveless marriage to her first cousin Alfonzo Lanier and it here she meets Shakespeare, so we do not see her supposed whorish nature as the necessary truth, just what the men who wrote her history found imperative to commemorate, despite her impressive poetry and entrepreneurial skills utilised to ascertain a publisher. Therefore, Emilia is an interesting commentary upon legacy, the character is offered the chance to be immortalised into words by Shakespeare as his ‘muse’, something she eventually turns down yearning to find a way to use her own work to cement her place in history. Yet this is later stolen from her when Shakespeare publishes the sonnets about their time together, stirring up rumours about their affair. When Emilia finally is able to publish her work, she states that it is not only for her but for Eve and all other Eve’s out there. Eve being a washerwoman she befriended amongst many others, who is unfortunately burned at the stake for witchcraft, having been spotting handing out subversive pamphlets in association with Emilia. Thus, Emilia’s poetry becomes not only something for her legacy but for the legacy of all women, equality becoming a common cause that we are still striving towards. Meaning Malcolm’s piece is an incredibly powerful, gender positive work, it creatively takes Emilia’s resilience to oppose oppression and society in order to pursue her passions and do something ‘only men were allowed to do’, alongside her own words from her Vertuous Reader, contextualising them for the purpose of promoting gender equality and for the empowerment of women. Something highly socio-politically relevant in this proclaimed Year of the Woman, it having been 100 years since women were afforded the right to vote, yet also a year of campaigning for change with Times Up and the pay gap at the forefront. ‘Men, who forgetting they were born of women, nourished of women, and if they were not of the means of women, they would be quite extinguished out of the world, and a final end of them all; do like vipers deface the wombs wherein they were bred,’ Emilia’s words thus becoming a compelling rallying cry to all in the audience to not settle for anything less than equality, ’If they try to burn you, may your fire be stronger than theirs, so you can burn the whole f****** house down’.

Emilia is, as expected, portrayed by three wonderfully powerful actors. Leah Harvey is captivating as they youngest Emilia, she embodies the character’s youthful naivety, exquisitely growing her character, developing a level of intelligence, fear and self-aware innocence, her performance is flawless. Harvey’s next linear counterpart is Vinnette Robinson, who manages to infallibly convey the unimaginable and excruciating suffering of Emilia with maturity and mastery, allowing for heart-breaking and earth-shattering scenes of love and loss, Emilia not only losing a series of close friends but most devastatingly a child in infancy. The final Emilia is brought to audiences by Clare Perkins, who is just an absolute powerhouse. She unfalteringly delivers the aforementioned battle cry of Emilia, a vehicle for pure rage and aggression, a rage that women have a right to foster in an age where equality is still not universal. The three-character set up, thus works similarly to Fun Home with each actor representing a different stage of the protagonist’s life and though the other’s do on occasion break the fourth wall, it is the Emilia who is the furthest into her story, Clare Perkins, that acts as a kind of narrator, holding a dialogue with the audience and moving the plot along, yet this plot is linear unlike Fun Home. Most ironically, the entire cast of the piece are in fact women, so with female actors playing all of the male roles, including William Shakespeare, there is a level of both absurdism and hilarity, as they portray some of the most misogynistic characters imaginable. Yet this is also a historical place holder, as it is directly opposite to the all-male casting composition of the time, along with it also being written by a female playwright, another direct opposite to the era. It is here the piece can be considered a synthesis, not only because it borrows form the past to create something new, taking a modern twist upon the historic, with the trade of an actor once only being open to boys and men, but also because the language at times tried to represent the ilk of the period, but then proceeded to break this for a more modern sounding tongue, usually for comedic effect. It is worth mentioning that Malcolm fashioned a huge amount of comedy, which prospers as a direct result of the piece’s absurdity and underlying socio-political means, not to mention because the cast deliver it so incredibly well. As part of this synthesis, the piece was because wonderfully costumed to reflect the period, yet the Emilia’s donning blue gowns presents a sort-of F-U to the stereotyping of blue for boys and pink for girls. Similarly, the set is almost bare like it would have been in Emilia’s day, except designer Jo Scotcher dresses it as a reflection of Emilia by filling the back wall with books, it shows her desire to learn and write rather than to marry and bare children, a supposedly manly trait and privilege. The books are of two colours red and blue and are arranged with red in the centre creating an ‘i’, the dot recreating the current Globe logo. This ‘i’ is a clear indication that this story is Emilia’s, as she directly addresses the audience. We would also like to think that it stands for identity, Emilia taking back her identity from that which scholars have given to her.

As earlier mentioned Emilia’s life is well documented but even so, Malcolm has been forced to take a large proportion of creative licence to craft this story. But this is not something of detriment as it is not the historical accuracy that is important, but the perennial congruity of the silencing of women and the subjugation of faculties due to the male ego. Making the production 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. For instance, there is an interesting focus upon the Brexit-inducing, prevalent negativity towards immigration. Though Emilia was brought up in England, she was of Italian descent, allowing room for some racist remarks about migrants coming to England and stealing jobs, her father having been a Venice-born musician who managed to make a name for himself in the English Court. Similarly, Emilia, as Shakespeare’s ‘dark lady’ is thus played by three black actors, placing her in an even greater minority. 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. Emilia’s run in with the washerwomen shows the distinct difference between the classes with the women commenting upon her not having to work unlike them, she is limited by society not allowing her to work even though she wants to and they are limited by having to utilise the little skills they have to survive.

Therefore, Emilia is monumental, the performances are exceptional and the underlying manifesto is timeless. This is the must-see production of 2018. Click here to book.

 

Writer – Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

Director – Nicole Charles

Designer – Jo Scotcher

Assistant Director – Anna Dirckinck-Holmfeld

Composer – Bill Barclay

Choreographer – Anna Morrisey

Costume Supervisor – Lydia Crimp

Physical Comedy Director – Joe Dieffenbacher

Fight Directors – Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown of Rc-Annie Ltd

 

Nadia Albina – Lady Katherine

Anna Andresen – Mary Sidney

Shiloh Coke – Lady Anne Clifford

Leah Harvey – Emilia 1

Jenni Maitland – Countess of Kent

Clare Perkins – Emilia 3

Carolyn Pickles – Lord Henry Carey

Vinette Robinson – Emilia 2

Sophie Russell – Lord Thomas Howard

Sarah Seggari – Lady Cordelia

Sophie Stone – Lady Margaret Clifford

Charity Wakefield – William Shakespeare

Amanda Wilkin – Alphonso Lanier