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: Ghost Quartet, Boulevard Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet is a playful and hauntingly beautiful song-cycle telling four interconnecting ghost stories that span seven centuries, transcending cultures and generations. Delivered in a Brechtian style by four players – (friends/ghosts), these players drink, play a plethora of instruments and represent an abundance of characters, demarcating the scenes of the piece by naming song sides, i.e Side 1 Song 1 and so on. Making the work wonderfully stylised and fast-paced. As a song-cycle, the piece is also intoxicatingly thematic, putting emphasis not only onto the music and instruments being played, but universal themes such as love, death, loss and most importantly, whiskey. We are therefore introduced to several pairings of lovers, as well told about several deaths and see the players drink ‘whiskey’ before they hilariously pass the beverage around. A perfect example of how in true Brechtian style, the players break the fourth wall. A true masterclass in the style, particularly as the narratives are not delivered in chronological order yet they are still understandable and powerfully striking parallels.

Looking more in depth at the stories delivered, these are; a Brothers Grimm-esque fairytale about two sisters, a treacherous treehouse astronomer and a lazy evil bear, a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, a purgatorial intermezzo about Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights) and the ghost of jazz player Thelonious Monk, as well as a contemporary, moral fable about a subway murder, which includes the camera that is smashed at the beginning of the piece. From these interwoven narratives, it is clear to see that Malloy’s writing is intricately peppered with influences from many styles and stories. This not not only demonstrates Malloy’s dexterity in his writing, but also generates a treasure trove of hidden gems for audience members to excavate and be delighted by. Stylistically, the music, (provided by four scored voices, cello, guitars, dulcimer, Celtic harp, erhu, autoharp, piano, keyboards and percussion), is influenced by murder ballads, doo-wop, angular bebop, Chinese folk, Islamic adhan and the music of Bernard Herrmann and George Crumb. Meaning the score is a wonderfully eclectic and multicultural blend of folk, jazz, choral and more. If you loved the sound of Hadestown, you’ll love this!

Performed in the round at the brand new Boulevard Theatre, (the space’s inaugural piece and the piece’s London Premiere), the circular staging fits perfectly with the non-chronological, cyclical style of the work. Instruments litter the space, as do flight cases with books, lamps, tables, and rugs, making us feel as if we are in a non-description living room or smokey jazz bar, amongst friends, joining in with their drinking and jam session, all telling stories and larking around. Whilst the act of having the audience surround the space allows for an inherently immersive quality, the audience are no longer passive, as they, in Brechtian style, are spoken to directly, the actors able to reach anyone and everyone, involving them and where necessary pulling them up on stage. The design, allowing for a change in levels, as well for the actors to walk around, encircle and even dance, is thus wonderfully meaningful, malleable and aesthetically stunning. Emma Chapman’s lighting on top of this is exceedingly powerful and reactive, adding to the intensity of the piece and intrinsically complementing the stylistic choices of Malloy and Director Bill Buckhurst.

Buckhurst’s overall direction, joyfully creating moments for and allowing the actors to, interact with each other and their audience, juxtaposing this to the more intensified darker moments of storytelling, where the actors often sing in solitude or a solemn spotlight. Nevertheless the songs are always eerily delivered directly into the audience, the actors taking every opportunity to affectingly make eye contact. As far as deliveries go Carly Bawden, Niccolò Curradi, Maimuna Memon and Zubin Varla are sensational. Consummate storytellers, exceedingly accomplished musicians, ductile and emotive actors and absolutely stunning vocalists, able to blend together effortlessly. Curradi and Memon display wondrous power and adaptability, whilst Bawden is an effervescent and eye-catching performer and Varla demonstrates phenomenal timing and characterisation, performing with a twinkle in his eye throughout.

As the actors leave the space, fading away we are left with audience members playing a vamp on various instruments, the players have vanished without a trace, like ghosts, were they even there? An air of mystery remains, a powerful end to a powerful piece. Go and see this gorgeous song cycle, it’s 90 polished minutes of pure stardust, an evening you won’t regret.

 

 

Director – Bill Buckhurst

Musical Directior and Supervisor – Benjamin Cox

Designer – Simon Kenny

Movement Director – Georgina Lamb

Lighting Designer – Emma Chapman

Sound Designer – David Gregory

Casting Director – Will Burton CDG
Production Manager – Andy Reader

Additional Orchestrations and Arrangements – Benjamin Cox


Cast

Carly Bawden

Niccolò Curradi

Maimuna Memon

Zubin Varla

Review: The Antipodes, Dorfman Theatre, (National Theatre)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸

To put it simply, The Antipodes is about storytelling.

Pulitzer-Prize winner Annie Baker has returned to the National with her newest play, The Antipodes. The narrative sees a group of people gather in a boardroom, (oddly well stocked with Perrier Natural Mineral Water), they are employed with the task of coming up with a new story, though it is never made clear exactly why and for what purpose. This satirical, absurd and intellectual exegesis, thus sees the characters tell, categorise and theorise stories over the course of the two hours. From the fantastical to the familiar, we hear how the character’s first lost their virginity and other anecdotes, as well as the plethora of historic myths and legends they are aware of, merging many of them in an attempt to come up with something new. Though the boardroom and the people in it seem familiar and realistic, as the stories become more absurd so does the play, their endless brainstorming session transgressing from the expected and known to the outlandish. The characters searching for something truly monstrous, the monsters in themselves somewhat coming to light instead.

The conceptualisation is particularly intriguing. It is as if Baker has spent her time deconstructing and compartmentalising the idea of a story, wanting to thus show what she has found, using this group of people she has created and brought together as the vehicle. For instance she refers to the belief that many have in regard to there only being so many types of stories, whether that be 6, 19, 36 or 10, (amounts suggested and explicated upon by the characters – referring to academic notions such as the ‘Hero’s Journey’ etc.). Yet she also seems to want to propose to her audience a question, is the piece she has written a story? Yes there are characters, but their true purpose for being where they are is unclear and their journey, non-existent, they remain in the same room throughout and make little progress on whatever task has been set of them, though it is important to note that time does pass, indicated by the various costume changes of Office Admin Sarah, (Imogen Doel). Furthermore, in naming her work The Antipodes, Baker is suggestive that her aim is to create something that is diametrical opposed to tradition, therefore it is an anti-story. It can can still be considered a story, but she has purposefully made it ambiguous, full of questions and surreal. Wittily, she makes charming references to the traditions of storytelling, whether that be conveying narratives through oration, painting, drawing, dictating, performing, typing or writing, going on to intrinsically refer to several institutions, from Greek myths and fairytales, to personal anecdotes and religious retellings. As well as the idea of stories as culturally relevant and at one time free/freely circulated, to them now being a paid for commodity, the irony remaining strong that we have, for the most part all paid for the pleasure of seeing, hearing and experiencing the story being presented to us now. The cogency here leads us on to question the value we give to stories particularly in a world in crisis, Baker beautifully depicting the ubiquitous nature of stories in our everyday lives and their necessity to keep us going. Therefore the writing is that of potency, intellect and acuity, Baker formulating many moments of pure hilarity, as well as those that shock, intrigue and confuse.

However the problem with the work is, that for many it is too cryptic and ambiguous. Making it very much marmite. We have to admit we did disengage and as a result, the two hours seemed to last a lifetime. Though it was the intention, the piece creates far more questions than it answers, it can feel at points desensitising and frustrating when no ripostes are given, particularly when the transgression enters the ‘chaos sphere’, with some truly unearthly moments. Yet there is a fun game to be played in spotting the numerous references Baker has crafted, paying homage to several well-known stories/myths. Her direction, alongside Co-Director and Designer Chloe Lamford is amicable. As aforementioned there are many moments of humour and stupor, which Lamford and Baker wonderfully ensure are delivered in a balanced, resolute, well-timed and provocative manner, doing a lot to really draw out the hilarity, absurdity or aesthetic conjecture provided by Baker’s own writing. Their approach effortlessly moving from naturalism, to representationalism, to Theatre of the Absurd. As far as the design goes, Lamford delivers a great sense of juxtaposition. She has dressed the nine characters as realistically as possible, they could be anyone, they are normal, everyday people. Yet her set, in contrast, is that of excess and absurdity. An excessively large glass boardroom table stretches across much of the stage and is surrounded by movable chairs, whilst the carpet is a garishly acidic orange with large geometric patterns upon it, the back left corner is coincidentally consumed by crates upon crates of Perrier water. The combination of these pieces is in itself absurd and generates an overall unusually bright aesthetic, very in-keeping with the unusual and complex nature of the piece.

Regarding individual performances, each delivery is dexterous and strong, the company proving themselves to be distinctive actors in their own right. Hadley Fraser, Arthur Darvill, Matt Bardock and Fisayo Akinade are particularly intelligible performers, full of vibrancy and clarity each able to convey the variegated nuances of their characters with wit and charm. Whilst Imogen Doel’s sprightly Sarah, is exceedingly enjoyable, her delivery is spellbindingly effervescent and dry humoured, Doel’s comedic timing proving to be razor sharp. Bill Milner’s note-taking Brian, is darkly solemn and for the most part, silent. Milner’s delivery is accomplished, sustaining just the right amount of curiosity and eldrich. Whilst Conleth Hill’s Sandy, the American in charge of the boardroom, (though evidently not the entire project), and Sinéad Matthews’ Eleanor each assert themselves as enthrallingly satirical and adept characterisations, Hill and Matthews, along with Doel, generating much of the comedically-rich moments.

To conclude, we can see and appreciate the vision for Annie Baker’s The Antipodes as well as appreciate the agility of the direction and deliveries. However the show is not for everyone, it’s Delphic and perplexing, so much so that in our case, it wasn’t our favourite. But if you want to be intellectually challenged it’s certainly worth a watch, click here to book now.

 

Adam – Fisayo Akinade.
Danny M1 – Matt Bardock.
Dave – Arthur Darvill.
Sarah – Imogen Doel.
Josh – Hadley Fraser.
Sandy – Conleth Hill.
Eleanor – Sinéad Matthews.
Danny M2 – Stuart McQuarrie.
Brian – Bill Milner.

Director – Annie Baker
Director and Set and Costume Designer – Chloe Lamford
Lighting Designer – Natasha Chivers
Sound Designer – Tom Gibbons
Movement Director – Sasha Milavic Davies
Sound Designer – Tom Gibbons
Illusion Designer – Steve Cuiffo
Dialect Coach – Charmian Hoare
Staff Director – Nimmo Ismail

Review: Lungs, Old Vic

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Bolstering explosive performances, dynamic direction and an intriguing narrative beautifully littered with visual motifs and ethical dilemmas, the Old Vic’s revival of Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith, directed by Matthew Warchus, is an absolute triumph. Sharp, witty and heart-wrenchingly powerful, the performances by Foy and Smith are definitively the best you can witness in the current theatrical landscape. The pair displaying insurmountable amounts of chemistry whilst tumultuously diving into the emotive subject matter.

First performed in 2011, Lungs is part fast-paced contemporary drama, part enigmatic climate play. As an unconventional love-story where modern, politically aware and somewhat climate-conscious couple M and W wrestle with the idea of starting a family, considering the amount of carbon offsetting they’d have to do to in order to counteract it, Lungs is, in this age of Extinction Rebellion, a painfully current, urgent and exceedingly relevant piece of theatre. Macmillan however, does more than pose the extremities of the environmental crisis to his audience, he makes the issues personable. This exegesis on both global ecological issues and the attitude towards them is therefore wonderfully delivered through the lense and world of the young couple. By letting us into their world, Macmillan is able to create a realistic and relatable relationship for us to dissect and to compare our experiences to, as well as to empathise with. An intention fantastically brought to fruition in Rob Howell’s design, the actors, using Howell’s round stage to revolve around and encircle each other. The circular stage demarcating their world, the surrounding audience becoming outsiders looking in. An idea artfully enhanced by Tim Lutkin’s Lighting Design, the white over-head lights beat down on the couple as if they are under scrutiny, below a microscope or in a test facility. Not only does the lighting and shape/proximity of the stage intensify the atmosphere but the malleability allows for a quick pace and a multiplicity of locations, resulting in a dynamic and incredibly engaging piece. Two doors are propped up by mountains of plastic, the doors are metaphorical lids on single use plastic, we, just as the couple have an awareness of the carbon legacy produced by a single child, know how much waste single use plastic causes, but still allow the mass production and use of it. A powerful and exceedingly literal demonstration by Howell of widespread ignorance towards the climate emergency with the doors remaining visible throughout, whilst the actors climb, sit and lie upon them in ignorant bliss. Furthermore, though M and W show an awareness of global issues, this awareness fades over time, until they become completely unaware of current affairs, cleverly demonstrating the generational flippancy many hold in response to the climate emergency, (with climate protests in the present being led by the younger generation). The stage and realm of the play therefore, is the couple’s personal world, though they are aware of outside issues, they don’t act. The surrounding space, (the outside), is the global plane, issues on the global plane, due to political inaction are often ignored by the individual as their personal world takes priority. The idea of these two separate worlds that coincide is therefore beautifully crafted using visual references to planets, the sun, orbiting and protons centring on a nucleus.

As aforementioned, the narrative puts the idea of how much it costs the planet to have a child as one of several factors to consider in whether to add to the population or not. CO2 emission-based climate change, overpopulation and political unrest are therefore considered as much as the individual’s career, financial reasons, the desire to retain one’s freedom, as well as the consideration of bringing a child into the world as it is. An idea wonderfully demonstrated with the title of the play, Lungs, referring to the process of breathing. The characters are thus shown to struggle to breathe because of their anxieties over having a child, anxieties that could eventually lead them to choose not to. Yet, they also complain about not being able to breathe because of the pollution outside, the prevalence of the climate emergency thus providing another good reason not to procreate. But they still do, much like the act of smoking; at one point or another M and W each smoke, though they know how bad it is for them, (much like they know how much a baby will add to the global footprint but they still proceed). They begin to ignore global issues and primal urges prevail. Macmillan thus provocatively exceeds, putting ethical dilemmas in direct contrast to primal urges, using scenes of a sexual nature and perfidious behaviour to refer to a humans as still driven by primal instincts moving us to copulate and therefore reproduce. In doing this Macmillan intrinsically captures the passive and often selfish nature of many ‘climate-conscious’ individuals, though the couple are aware and do discuss the strain a single child puts on the planet, they still choose to reproduce and are ultimately shown to be complex and flawed individuals, putting their desires and instincts before their own ethics. By moving the characters to even going as far as to ask each other if they are truly good people, Macmillan brutally provides a discussion on ethics and whether humans can be truly good or bad, particularly when swayed by the personal realm.

Matthew Warchus’ delphian direction is unequivocally superior, he ensures that Smith and Foy’s characters are multilayered, emotive and resilient. The pacing Warchus has created, that moves the piece instantaneously from scene to scene and location to location with a simple look or movement from either of the actors as they tear through the Herculean dialogue, is incredibly reactive and intelligible. The flow here is enviably quick, vibrant and full of purpose, easily encouraging the audience to be attentive, as they are gently reeled into M and W’s world until they are completely invested, whilst also provocatively being ethically and emotionally challenged. Additionally the levels of comedy and wit are extraordinary, delivered in a measured, well-timed and potent manner, Warchus suitably ensures that this play truly does make you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time! M and W are thus, two very real human beings and Warchus’ can be credited with bringing these complex, clever, comedically rich and relatable individuals to life. As for Smith and Foy, as previously mentioned their chemistry is seriously fiery and connective. Having appeared together in The Crown, this is of course to be expected, however their performances supersede the predicted. Foy is insanely talented, the raw emotion she pours into W is astonishing. She proves herself to be a divinely dexterous performer able to visibly show a character’s thought processes, sustaining a wondrous presence throughout. The clarity, power and emotional journey she provides is truly breathtaking, from naivety to heartbreak, love and loss, Foy delivers it all with ease and intensity. Her is M is a smart, loveable and piquant individual. A world class delivery. Smith similarly provides an abundance of depth, capturing the passive nature of M magnificently. His performance is strong, full of tension and expresses the almost emotionally detached side of M brilliantly, the perfect counterpart for Foy’s particularly stirring W. Smith makes M a sort Everyman, relatable, capable of love, but also flawed and somewhat un-empathetic/at times, thoughtless. An inspiring delivery.

To conclude, Lungs is the event of the season, we can’t urge you enough to watch it. It is urgent, politically charged, beautifully written, but most importantly delivered to perfection. Go, go, go! Click here to book now.

Writer – Duncan Macmillan
Director – Matthew Warchus
Set & Costume – Rob Howell
Lighting – Tim Lutkin
Sound – Simon Baker
Associate Director – Katy Rudd

Claire Foy
Matt Smith

Review: ‘Master Harold’… and the boys, Lyttelton Theatre, (National Theatre)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Roy Alexander Weise directs an enigmatic and strong production of Athol Fugard’s semi-autobiographical play, first performed in 1982 when white-black segregation was still prevalent. This beautifully balanced, racially charged, aesthetic masterpiece, is a resilient addition to the Lyttelton’s Autumn season.

Set in 1950, apartheid South Africa, ‘Master Harold’… and the boys explores the nature of friendship, and the ways people are capable of hurting even those they love. Following two black men Sam and Willie, who work for a white family, the play mightily tackles the unjust nature and significance of racial segregation through the innocent eyes of a child, Hally. As the boy has grown, despite his friendship with Sam, who has tried to protect him from being capable of such hatred, he has been exposed to the inherent white vs. black racism of the time and doesn’t yet realise the weight of his words. Providing a powerful demonstration of generational indoctrination and white supremacy. Sound familiar? As the present socio-political climate shifts once more to a landscape where policy doesn’t necessary favour minorities, there are many pressing and relevant parallels to be drawn between then and now, from the mentions of American and Russian relations to the dreamlike imaginings of a world defined by peace and equality, something that is now still a dream.

Fugard’s writing is endlessly beautiful, he intricately litters the narrative with visual motifs and metaphors. From the kite it is mentioned that Sam and Hally made together, (signifying a hope for a better and united future between them and their races), Sam leaving Hally to sit on a ‘white’s only’ bench, a detail Hally is innocently oblivious of, a later reference being made that they need to fly a kite together now more than ever as their relationship crumbles and racial divisions prograde a barrier between them. To the descriptions of the ballroom competitions Sam and Willie enter, the competitors never colliding on the dance floor being representative of the beautiful and seemingly impossible idea of, ‘a world without collisions’. Weise’s direction therefore lovingly perpetuates and accents the visual stimuli woven throughout, as Sam, Willie and Hally prove to be enigmatic storytellers excitedly enacting much of their various recollections as they jovially remember their past together. Then, with fantastic collaboration between Movement Director/Choreographer Shelley Maxwell and Set/Costume Designer Rajha Shakiry, (with wonderful Lighting Design by Paule Constable and Sound Design from Giles Thomas), we are cinematically transitioned from St George’s Park Tea Room in Port Elizabeth, to the ballroom as Sam and Willie glide together, powerfully demonstrating the pair’s resilience in the face of oppression. Shakiry’s detailed, intricate and vitalising design wondrously brings to life the tea room and bleak, (definitely not kite flying) weather conditions, as realistic rain pelts on the windows above throughout. The pacing of the piece is particularly strong and balanced as Sam and Willie playfully converse with Hally – attempting to do his homework, whilst keeping somewhat focussed on their work, setting about putting the tables and chairs out ready for the next day, demonstrating their subservient societal position. Also allowing for the chairs and tables to be intriguingly used as props and characters in their storytelling.

Performance-wise all three actors do a phenomenal job, as aforementioned they are keen storytellers, each of them remaining equally as captivating and strong. Lucian Msamati, (Sam) and Hammed Animashaun, (Willie) have stunning physicality and seem to have picked up ballroom dancing effortlessly, whilst their presence is determinately fierce, entertaining and passionate. Delivering exceedingly raw and emotive performances. Whilst Anson Boon’s Hally is a wonderful counterpart, plagued by teen angst and an unhappy home-life, Boon gives Hally great depth and meaningful intent, his performance likewise carries much emotion. Though Boon’s South African accent is somewhat jarring and needs a little toning down to make the character slightly more bearable.

To conclude ‘Master Harold’… and the boys is a solidly performed, provocative piece with a lot of depth and food-for-thought. It’s definitely still relevant today and masterfully/effortlessly delivered. Do go and see it whilst you still can, click here.

 

Roy Alexander Weise – Director

Lucian Msamati – Sam

Hammed Animashaun – Willie

Anson Boon – Hally

Rajha Shakiry – Set and Costume Designer

Paule Constable – Lighting Designer

Shelley Maxwell – Movement Director and Choreographer

Giles Thomas – Sound Designer

Simon Money – Company Voice Work

Joel Trill – Dialect Coach

Anthony Simpson Pike – Staff Director