Review: Over My Dad’s Body, Crescent (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Simon David’s Over My Dad’s Body is a sharp-witted, satirical, and wonderfully self-aware one man show brimming with heart, charm and humour.

As an autobiographical review, the plot follows Simon as he recounts how he planned to write and perform a brand new, all-singing, all-dancing show, ‘Date Night!’, before his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And then, somewhat to Simon’s dismay, just as he decides to quit performing, his dad, writes, performs and films his own one-man show about his illness, mortality and legacy. So what starts out as a camp cabaret, spirals through to a hilarious, bitter-sweet, remembrance of Simon’s father who tragically died months after performing his show. And, as a result, it is also a cathartic elucidation on grief and the processing of it.

This show within a show about a show, is exceedingly intelligible, poking fun at it’s own ‘vapid, self-indulgent’ form and is intuitively directed by Chris Larner, the pace, wit and humour quite literally sparkling. Simon, composing his piece to be rife with jokes, ridiculous rhyming lyrics, innuendo and smut, cleverly still leaves room for the satirical nature to be contrasted by meaningful sentiment and charm. Whilst the combination of stand-up, film footage and original songs proves to be the winning formulae and great weight can be found in the scenes where, Simon delicately recounts hearing his father’s diagnosis from him and of his rushing home to Newcastle when things got worse, before heartbreakingly describing hearing his father’s breathing stop. Whilst the archive footage of his father’s show played at the point his death is described is brutal. The consequential manipulation of this footage, to engender Simon’s father still willing him on to perform is however an ingenious twist.

Furthermore, there’s a certain beautiful monotony in the train journeys Simon makes back and forth, recounting the stations, (or at least trying to). Not only does this convey what Simon’s anxiety was like, him trying to distract himself, unsure of what he was going to face when he got there, the final journey being made in silence, with Simon carrying a chair, a physicalisation of the weight of his grief. But also,  perhaps the monotony references his father’s diagnosis and treatment, as palliative care can be a repetition – arduous and seemingly pointless, the individual facing their own mortality, perhaps the journeys do much to signify this as well. Either way, Simon David’s piece is wonderfully multi-layered and complex. Simon‘s performance itself is also sensational, his comic-timing is exceedingly astute and his voice, sublime.

If you want to enjoy a show about ‘me, myself and Si’, complete with sparkly silver suit and black beret, a performance that will definitely leave you singing ‘I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay’, catch Over My Dad’s Body when it inevitably returns. Click here for Simon’s website to follow his future endeavours.

Review: The Journey of a Warlike Mind, Cage (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

The Journey of a Warlike Mind sees Ana Luiza Ulsig push the boundaries of artistic expression to deliver a vibrant, comedically-rich and affecting feminist exposé, that intimately delves into the inner workings of the mind, beautifully charting a journey of self-discovery and transformation from within.

Masterfully combining storytelling and dramatisation with movement, poeticism, dance, caricature and music, the work follows Eva on the most arduous journey of them all. Inside her own mind, as she finds the way to the bottom of her heart. Based on a true episode of a mental breakdown, which occurred during the impeachment process of Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rouseff, in 2016, Ulsig playfully challenges her audience to decide which stories are her own and which are borrowed from friends, though all are irrevocably true and as result, remarkably affecting. This collection of narratives artfully weaves together, juxtaposing the abstract with realism and comedy with despair to form a bitter-sweet adventure through imagination, fantasy, mystery, laughter and tears. Resulting in a Herculean exegesis on the female experience and ingrained patriarchal structures, from our silence in the face of oppression and sexual abuse to our attitudes positive or negative towards men. Ultimately concurring that the change first comes from within, beginning with seeking your essential voice.

Ulsig thus dextrously displays the complexities of finding this essential voice, staging the inherent tension between the voices which inhabit our minds. Eva’s many selfs proving to be a battleground she must persist through however difficult or painful it is. An emotive and witty demonstration of the importance of our mental health and the healing process, with the ugliness of pain and scars of trauma being powerful contrasted against the the beauty of transformation and learning to love and feel again.

Ulsig is an enamouring writer and performer, there is true hope, beauty and poetry to her words and the performance of them. She is vibrant, sharp-witted and intelligible, using a plethora of representative costume and props to spin an exhilarating adventure, hurtling at 100 miles an hour, cleverly using movement, music and dance to balance, segment and emote. Her characterisation and ability to instantaneously embody the many facets of Eva’s imagination is wondrous, from an excitable little boy, to a tobacco-smoking, ‘outside-eye’ film director, her melancholic and frail heart, to the manly man she is in potentially in love with, to Shakespeare himself and more. Eva’s relationship with men, through these imagined male figures, is therefore broken down, does she hate men? And if so, why does she hate them? Thus cleverly capturing the conflict and resolution of our brains. We also hilariously see Eva wrestle with the idea of love, is she in love? Is marriage what she wants? Or is it because that’s what’s expect of her? Whilst we heartbreakingly see her come face-to-face with the repressed scarring of sexual abuse. An exquisite snapshot into the modern female experience. Ulsig also beautifully frames her work with the character of Rose, a seeming signifier of all the women who have gone before Eva and all the women that will come after her. The narrative begins with Rose rising from her tomb, from the dead, from the past. She alerts for an imminent war and Eva’s journey begins. At the end Rose fades, a memory.

If you want to witness Ulsig’s prepossessing art and skill, catch The Journey of a Warlike Mind today! Click here.

 

Written and performed by Ana Luiza Ulsig

African Dance Supervision: Joana Marinho (Brazil)

Costume Design: Camila Crus (Brazil)

Rehearsals / Sound collaboration: Mariana Santos Silva (Portugal/UK)

Performative writing collaboration: Joseph Dunne-Dowrie (UK)

Character development collaboration: Olavo Cavalheiro (Brazil)

Artistic and Graphic Design: Sofie Ulsig cargocollective.com/sofieart & Radoslav Nedyalkov radographic.com

Photos by Aidan Huxford

Review: VOiD, Pit (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

In our opinion great theatre makes you think and makes you feel, Tutti Tutti ProductionsVOiD does just that.

Coming with a strong content warning, i.e ‘themes of rape, sexual abuse and knife crime’, VOiD is as expected an empowered and gut-wrenching drama, that keeps its audience on the edge of their seats, proving to be gripping, cognitive and raw.

Adroitly written and performed by Sophia Capasso, the piece is a playfully ominous story that challenges its audience to decipher between Ali’s reality and her imagination. On the surface, she is a feisty young women who has always felt invincible, but something has changed, she feels suffocated and exhausted with the world, (particularly the world glued to her finger tips), she wants it to go away and at points it does, in the form of episodic blackouts. When she snaps, breaking her phone and blacking out again, she stabs a man outside of Shepherd’s Bush Tube Station, are the allegations she makes against the man the truth or has she convinced herself to believe an imagined version of events, does she know more than she’s letting on? A tangled web unfolds, providing multiple questions, a remarkably engaging format through which we hear it all from Ali herself. The play vicariously traversing the boundaries of identity, dancing on the edges between monster and victim, which are both shown in equal measure. Also delivering a powerful exegesis on mental health and how we treat it, questioning how helpful it is to simply medicate as well as what the true meaning of sanity is.

The smashing of Ali’s phone and the freeing euphoria she subsequently describes, provides a strong message about our reliance on smart phones in this digital age. Capasso, (Ali) then cupping the air where a phone used to be, describing it as an addiction, an itch we need to scratch. Yet, a phone symbolises much more than this here, it’s an example of a falsified reality, something as aforementioned VOiD wonderfully navigates. Referring to the fact that what we post online is usually never the full story, a highlight reel of how we want to be viewed, with how we interact often not being how we would in real life, the digital version of us is therefore falsified or enhanced. As earlier mentioned, the piece also touches upon rape as well as the criminal justice system. It torturously captures the flaws in ‘the system’ and unwarranted treatment of victims, such as disbelief in their claims entirely and asking questions like ‘what were you wearing?’. Whilst the prison system and its ability to rehabilitate is dextrously debated alongside this.

Bruce Webb’s direction is fantastic, incredibly paced, full of vibrancy and depth, creating a darkly sinister atmosphere that twist and turn, continuously playing with the audience. Whilst Capasso’s performance is absolutely stunning. Her delivery is gritty and complex, perfectly conveying the multiple layers and extremities of Ali. We were in awe.

Catch VOiD now, go, go, go! Click here.

 

Director – Bruce Webb

Performer and Writer – Sophia Capasso

Review: The Wild Unfeeling World, Cavern (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Casey Jay AndrewsThe Wild Unfeeling World is a crisp and relevant reimagining of Moby Dick, lyrically exploring a plethora of potent themes such as isolation, mental health and the quest for help. Andrews situating the tale in the not-so-distant past, her adaptation becoming a socially conscious story for the now, the ‘Wild Unfeeling World’ of today as it were. Perfectly capturing how easy it is to fall into solitude in the big smoke, especially when your world starts to crumble. The great whale Dylan is therefore, humanised, transformed into a modern, London women on the brink of self-destruction, having hit rock bottom and feeling utterly alone, she is frantically searching for a something, someone or somewhere to neutralise her self deprecation and a great journey of self discovery ensues. The narrative culminating with her finding affinity with a lost whale she discovers in the Thames, a beautifully tragic nod to the juvenile bottlenose whale who died of such a fate in January 2006. However, whale-lovers do not despair, as the tagline of the show warns, ‘expect whale facts’.

The most charming part about Andrews’ work is quite simply how much of an exquisite storyteller she is, projecting a certain warmth and clarity, revelling in the beautiful simplicity of her own work, breaking the fourth wall to juxtapose silliness against sincerity, surrealism against irrational hope. Ultimately presenting a suburban fable in which bad luck and questionable decisions can make or break you and there’s a fine line between the two. Andrews’ vision thus proves itself to be incredibly visceral and poetic and her narrative, charming and hugely moving. Whilst the writing is intelligible, factual and scientifically driven, the personable, charming nature of it balances and warms the heart.

As The Wild Unfeeling World is based on such a renowned piece of literature it is inevitable that Andrews references other great literary works and their authors such as J.M. Barrie and Peter Pan, mentioning Barrie’s theorising on desire paths and Kensington Gardens where it all began, Andrews hiding these gems like intoxicating secrets throughout. Another skilled element is the technical design of the piece, underscoring controlled by Andrews herself, dictates the atmosphere, conveys emotion, moves the plot along and sets the pace, wonderfully enhanced by some dexterous lighting. And when coupled with the directly addressed scientific musings on whales and the world, there is a slight National Theatre: A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time vibe to it. Clear, sharp and smart, yet relatable and poignant. The sound design is also aptly reflective of the ocean, the setting of the original fable, demonstrating the importance of water to the piece. For instance, Dylan remarks about how she finds tranquility in the Sea Life Centre marvelling at the underwater exhibits, she is also pursued down a body of water (the Thames) past famous war ships by Ahab, in this version, a ginger cat seeking revenge after being clipped by Dylan’s car (Moby Dick – A White Renault Clio), whilst Dylan as aforementioned comes face to face with a Whale in the river, wading in the water and frantically calling for help – symbiotic to her own need for help. In Ahab’s pursuit real water is chaotically utilised. We did say silliness counterbalances the meaning-making.

To conclude, if you want to witness water being thrown, cats seeking revenge and a women on the brink, encapsulated in skilled storytelling, catch The Wild Unfeeling World at Vault Festival this week. Click here to book.

Review: Black Terror, Cage (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

***Black Terror is very much still in development, performed here as a staged reading with script in hand. With that being said, Kalungi Ssebandeke’s piece is transcendent, affecting and smart, opening up a meaningful dialogue on knife crime, violence, the Black Experience and inherited trauma.

Ssebandeke’s narrative sees a young 21st Century boxer transported to 18th Century London where he meets Georgian Bare Knuckle Boxer Bill Richmond, a former American slave. It soon transpires that the youngster was caught in a fight and tragically stabbed, is he dead? Dying? Hallucinating? Or actually in 18th Century England? Questions the character begins to wrestle with. What ensues is provocative collision of our reality and the past. Ssebandeke using history and the known facts about Richmond to paint a likeness for the purpose of coaching the young boxer on courage, discipline and respect, ultimately rising above racial hatred. Teaching him the importance of boxing, that to settle things in the ring allows both parties to live to fight another day. A perhaps too late sentiment that warns against lashing out as this can be dangerous and unnecessary. Meaning the work is wonderfully driven by its bold stance against knife related crime, providing a powerful exegesis on that which claims so many young lives each year.

As aforementioned not only does the work tackle violence and crime but also race, with the young boxer recounting how he was spat at by a white man in a park whilst reading a book by Molineux and then subsequently threatened, looked at like an animal he retaliated. The vivid description of the pain and anger this caused is abruptly tangible. With Richmond then going on to articulate about this pain being passed down but dulled a little in each generation, intriguingly building a picture of the theory of inherited trauma, as well as societal change. Perpetuated by Richmond then listing all of the successful and known Black boxers that came after him, stating how he was with them through it all.

Black Terror is historically sound, delivering a witty and engaging, factually accurate account of Richmond’s life and of Georgian Bare Knuckle Boxing. We hear about stances, recorded fights and Richmond’s technique for dodging punches, learning of his funded education in England, his being born into slavery in Staten Island, his endorsement by Thomas Pitt, that he was a cabinet maker and that he got married and had several children. However, a point for further development, in its infancy, Black Terror perhaps doesn’t focus enough on the young boxer, the historical facts and boxing knowledge are excellently researched and sewn in, but we felt like other than the mention of the racism he faced in the park, we don’t hear much about the young boxer’s life. Perhaps this is deliberate to make him indistinguishable and thus, is suggestive of the fact he’s one of many attacked in this manner, but there definitely is more scope for developing the character and his backstory. 

Kalungi Ssebandeke is a stunning actor, able to bring to life both characters, bounding around the stage and even holding on to a script. His performance was vibrant, warm and heartfelt. So for something performed beautifully, stripped back and unequivocally meaningful, pop in and see Black Terror. Click here to book.

Review: First Time, Studio (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

A wonderfully crafted coming-of-age tragicomedy that grips its audience from the off and takes them on an impassioned and heartfelt ride.

First Time personably, sincerely and intuitively tackles the stigma surrounding HIV. By normalising and humanising human immunodeficiency viruses and those living with them, (including himself), Nathaniel Hall delivers an affecting, emotionally honest and witty hour of storytelling, candour and facts. Recounting his life up until now, from when he was 16, carefree and heading to prom, to his ‘first time’ during a brief summer of love, his subsequent contraction of HIV and the diagnosis, right through to 14 years later when he is finally coming to terms with it.

Thus, Hall provides a captivating and enamouring personal dialogue and autobiographical masterpiece. His delivery is skilled and qwerky, well balanced and full of wit, emotion and sensibility. As we listen to his recounts, watching him descend from euphoria to despair, and then exploring his suffering mental health through to a final plaintive place of peace, the tagline says it all, ‘growing up positive in a negative world’,  with Hall compellingly conveying how his diagnosis and the shame he felt affected his mental health and how this changed and improved as he grew older, consummately laying out and exemplarising his imperfections, as yes there can be relapses and bad days, but ultimately he’s still alive and there is hope. However, First Time doesn’t just idiosyncratically use humour and tragedy to fight against the stigma. It emotes, educates and praises. Delicately remembering those lost, (particularly in the AIDS epidemic in the 80s), Hall therefore intricately threads an 80s undertone into his piece, underscoring his scene changes with 80s-style electro music, an unheeded reminder of how far we’ve come since then. Also commenting on how attitudes to homosexuality have changed and how HIV medication has improved over the years, all coming to a head in an emotional scene where a memorial visual is recreated, with historic projections shown and red-ribboned candles being handed to the audience, a powerful and tear-jerking moment. Hall also makes a point of including his love and respect for the NHS that ‘saved his life’, pinning it down to one person who figuratively held his hand through the diagnosis, another personable touch.

Design-wise, props litter the stage, each with their own significance, demonstrable of the wonderfully imaginative, representative and thematic nature of the work. A bench placed centre stage is the beginning of it all. A medical exam screen is the diagnosis and the NHS as whole. A balloon is first love and an imagined future, popped and lost in an instant. Drugs and alcohol are medication and signifiers of poor mental health as well as the need to dull the pain. A rack of clothing is there to be changed to signify the passing of time. Whilst letters hang spelling out the word ‘hope’, not only an uplifting message, but also representative of the letter Nathaniel sent to his parents to tell them that he is HIV+, (posted over a decade after his diagnosis) and the moment he seems finally at peace. Whilst Two triangles adorn the stage, a blue one glows made out of strip lights a pink one mirrors it on the floor. A statement set piece. Perhaps this references Nathaniel’s parents and how he was unable to fully open up to them. Having only ‘come out’ when they asked him and at that point stating he was in fact bisexual (despite categorically knowing he was gay), a pink and blue triangle often being used by the LGBT community as a symbol for bisexuality. Or perhaps, the blue triangle is Nathaniel himself, suggestive of his attraction towards men, the pink shadowing ‘him’ to reflect the fact he is HIV+ positive and that it is part of him, but it doesn’t define him, the pink triangle perhaps referencing AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, (ACT UP). Either way, there’s plenty of-food for-thought.

To conclude, First Time is hugely intelligible, self-aware and fully involves its audience. Definitely catch it, on all this week. Click here.

Nathaniel Halls writes, performs, directs.

Presented by Dibby Theatre and Waterside Arts.

Review: SOLD, Studio (Vault Festival 2020)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Immensely powerful and artistically vibrant! A must see!

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

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

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

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

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

 

Director/Co-producer: Euton Daley

Writer/Performer: Amantha Edmead

Drummer/ Performer: Angie ‘Amra’ Anderson

Vocal Coach: Ayo-Dele Edwards

Choreographer: Lati Saka

KNA Co – Producer: John Sailsman

Review: Operation Mincemeat, Southwark Playhouse

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Creative Team:

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

 

Cast:

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

 

Band:

Felix Hagan
, Ellen O’Reilly and 
Lewis Jenkins

Review: Bored of Knives, White Bear Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

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

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

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

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

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

 

1 – Kitty Fox Davis

2 – Molly Chesworth

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

Writers – Megan Louise Wilson & Kitty Fox Davis

Director – Tom Ryder

Producer – Kurtis Lowe

Associate Producer – Kitty Fox Davis

Media & Marketing – Megan Louise Wilson

Set Design – Gino Santos

Sound Design – Kurtis Lowe

Lighting Design – Louis Caro

Review: Maisie, The Bread & Roses Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

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

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

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

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

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

 

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