Review: Anna, Dorfman Theatre, (National Theatre).

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

The Dorfman Theatre, in a turn of magnificent place-making manifests into a 1968 German Surveillance Centre, complete with headsets to listen in and a two way mirror. Ella Hickson’s new play Anna is not only a benevolent thriller, the design added by Ben and Max Ringham creates a theatrical atmosphere that has never been seen (or heard before). This is innovation in theatre.

As with any good thriller, there are a plethora of serious spoilers involved, but we were told ‘KEEP US SAFE’ ‘NO SPOILERS’, so, we of course won’t ruin the ridiculously well-written, suspense filled twists and turns of Hickson’s masterpiece. That being said, what we can tell you is that the trajectory is thrown off kilter by several gut-wrenching plot distortions, the likes of which engage and shock aplenty. Anna is set in East Berlin in 1968, just prior to the toppling of the wall. The work intriguingly focussing on what it was like to live under the communist rule of the German Democratic Republic. A time riddled with suspicion and fear over who to trust and who was listening, hence the surveillance thematics and the mentions of the party being a ‘safe space’. The action all takes place on one evening which we watch from Anna’s perspective. She and husband Hans are hosting a party at the suggestion of his new boss. The evening having been arranged for Hans’ work colleagues to celebrate his promotion. The guests subsequently arrive, whilst Anna’s mother’s unjust death in 1949 at the hands of Russian soldiers comes back to the forefront of her memory, the unexpected ensues as the two events collide.

As aforementioned the evening is shown from her perspective, this is intricately and beautifully built through the miraculous design, particularly that of the sound. Anna is mic’d and her audio is amplified and thus, all we hear, played directly into our headphones, (the reason for which comes abundantly clear). This creates an ASMR-style cacophony of sound, the perfect nod to this viral trend featured heavily on Youtube right now. The style allowing us to not only hear what Anna can hear, but her breathing, speaking and the sound of her movements combined, creating a listening experience that almost allows us to feel her movements through sound. This combine wondrously with the set design as its orientation blocks the bathroom, hallway and bedroom of the flat from total view, whilst the kitchen and lounge are central and visible, so when Anna is hidden spaces we are only able to listen in, engendering a scintillating sensation of spying, much like the reality of the time. Perpetuated further by the division of the stage, (Anna and Hans’ flat) by a perspex panel, parting the audience from the actors, the couple’s windows becoming a two way mirror through which we can look in and spy. Furthermore it is the moments Anna is out of view that build an exhilarating juxtaposition, whilst she is speaking of tragedy and loss, the party continues and the guests are shown to be jovially enjoying themselves, utter turmoil is contrasted by recreational enjoyment.

Much like Rosmersholm, (now playing the West-End, Duke of York’s Theatre), the piece ultimately pits politics against the personal. In Anna’s case political affiliation and involvement is secondary to personal ambition, much like many independent female character’s that have gone before her, she is willing to act in a typically ‘masculine’ manner, demonstrating the volition to sacrifice her morals for hot-headed revenge, however just it seems. And in this powerful role Phoebe Fox is an absolute joy, a maelstrom of emotion and utterly convincing, supported by a superb ensemble. Anna is one hour of pure thrills and physical gasps. With the most adroit innovations in design seen this year! You won’t want to miss it, click here to book now. 

 

Cast
Phoebe Fox – Anna
Paul Bazely – Hans
Michael Gould
Diana Quirk
Lara Rossi
Nathalie Armin
Max Bennett
Jamie Bradley
Georgia landers
Dwane Walcott

 

Creatives
Author: Created by Ella Hickson, Ben and Max Ringham (story by Ella Hickson)
Composer: Ben and Max Ringham
Director: Natalie Abrahami
Designer: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting: Jon Clark
Sound: Ben and Max Ringham
Movement: Anna Morrissey

 

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Review: A German Life, Bridge Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Maggie Smith triumphantly returns to the stage! Captivating as ever, she sensationally holds the crowd in the palm of her hand from start to finish. Illiciting an instantaneous, well-deserved standing ovation in response.

‘Maggie Smith, alone on stage’. This aforementioned statement about the production that features on Bridge Theatre’s website, is perhaps the perfect description of A German Life. Christopher Hampton’s new play is just this, Maggie Smith, a magnificent storyteller, on her own terms telling the story of a German life, from it’s humble beginnings, through to it’s glory days and finally to its decent, using the vehicle of a direct address memoir to vibrantly convey this life in its totality. And this is not just any German life we are talking about, the testimony here, is that of famed short-hander, typist and secretary for propaganda propeller Joseph Goebbels, Brunhilde Pomsel. Drawn from Christian Krönes, Olaf Müller, Roland Schrotthofer and Florian Weigensamer’s 2016 documentary interviewing Pomsel, (also entitled A German Life), Hampton uses his writing to toy with the idea of the human condition, from an ingrained selfish ability to turn a blind eye to injustice or believe in a scapegoat, resulting from a lack of empathy or inclination to care, combined with the governing classes ability to withhold or falsify information, sound familiar? Our Brexit senses are tingling! Set in 2016, (the year of the EU vote), the character ironically remarks how ‘the people’ would never fall for a cover up today like the allusion before the atrocities of the concentration camps. The title itself, A German Life, does much to paint Pomsel as an ordinary German, though extraordinary due to her association to one of the most evil men in history, she was by her own admission much like many Germans of her time, duped by the higher powers into thinking nothing bad was actually happening. ‘I had no idea what was going on. Or very little. No more than most people…’. This presented ordinary nature of the character, is thus nuanced-ly represented through Anna Fleischle’s design. Pomsel is sat at an ordinary table, within an ordinary kitchen, drinking an ordinary cup of tea and ordinarily indulging in a little cognac as the evening progresses, losing herself in her story. The deeper she goes into her reminiscing, the further she gets away from the kitchen and the present day, it’s as if she is envisioning her past. Fleischle, therefore cleverly makes the table at which she sits mechanically edge slowly towards the front of the stage throughout the performance, whilst the remaining set pieces move further away, falling into the background. A movement that is so slick and unassuming that it is almost impossible to document during the piece. A beautiful visualisation of the transgression of Pomsel’s life and story, as well as a physical wiping away of the setting that does much to sinisterly suggest these kind of things could happen anywhere at any time.

The play itself displays the ageing Pomsel, sitting in a kitchen, she, disorientated by her years and experiences stumbles chronologically through her life, which spanned the twentieth century. From labouring to make ends meet as a secretary in Berlin during the 1930s, through her many employers including a Jewish insurance broker and the German Broadcasting Corporation, to the eventuality that was, Joseph Goebbels and the repercussions past that. Jonathan Kent’s valorous direction sees Smith endearingly and humorously bring Pomsel to life, (Hampton aptly ensuring that there are several one-liners to wondrously accent the vibrancy of the character). Brunhilde Pomsel is there in the auditorium with you, Kent, Hampton and Smith ensure it. Whilst Fleischle echoes this, her design floods Pomsel’s table with newspapers and pages of writing, an indicator of her work in both Broadcasting House and in the Press offices, particularly her typist abilities, the cognac she places on the table demonstrates some of the frivolity she enjoyed under Goebbels, whilst the books demonstrate not only her intelligence, but the education she could have had, should her father have allowed her to study past the age of 15. Small visual glimpses into a variegated life. Something Paul Groothuis’ sound also cohesifies with, a subtle integrity. He chooses to sprinkle beautiful sound bites throughout, without overdoing their frequency. These are enkindled echoes of Pomsel’s life, for instance we hear the roar of a crowd formed after Hitler was made Chancellor, a rally Pomsel was dragged to by an a boyfriend at the time, as well as parts of a speech made by Goebbels, Pomsel again being forced to attend due to her avocation. Sewn throughout Groothius’ work is astonishing and so very apt for the overall sincerity and tenderness of the piece.

To conclude, the composition is well-balanced and deeply enthralling. Smith expectedly astonishes, whilst both the direction and design around her make it so. A German Life is a moving, momentous must see!

 
Cast
BRUNHILDE POMSEL – Maggie Smith

Creative Team
DIRECTOR – Jonathan Kent
WRITER – Christopher Hampton
DESIGNER – Anna Fleischle
LIGHTING – Jon Clark
SOUND – Paul Groothuis

 

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

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

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

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

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

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

Written and performed by Lucy Roslyn
Directed by Josh Roche

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

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

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Hauntingly beautiful!

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

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

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

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

 

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

Review: Inside Voices, Pit (The Vaults). Vaults Festival 2019

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

Inside Voices is a challenging, enchanting and wonderfully uplifting piece presented by international and multicultural collective Lazy Native, who self proclaim to champion Southeast Asian work, something they wholeheartedly achieve by showcasing Nabilah Said’s provocative writing. Focussing on three variegated Muslim women Nisa, Fatima and Lily, Inside Voices sheds a light on the three’s different perspectives and shared experiences as women of their faith and culture. Situating the dialogue on a fantasy plain reached through slumber or a mind place, the writing conjures a vibrant world of impossible dreams in which Nisa, Fatima and Lily regularly meet to discuss the constraints they feel due to their gender and subservience, momentarily together they wish for something more, or simply different.

Staged in the round, this piece is incredibly immersive, the three actors consummately pro-teming as storytellers informing each other and their audience, in a personable manner, of outside expectations and of their struggles. Often shown by the three women chattering amongst themselves and speaking over each other, consolidating the audience into their gossiping collective. Allowing for the development of a balanced and witty ensemble driven delivery. With much of the conversing revolving around food, the smell of ‘Fatima’s cooking’ wafts throughout the playing space and engulfs the audience, representing her laborious completion of domestic obligations over the years, something later indicated by her weaving a garland of flowers. Another domestic act and symbol of marriage, but one that seems to reflect the way she feels about her existence, the picked flowers are strung onto a garland, their beauty momentary and doomed to wither and eventually die, much like her youth. The construction of this imagery, thus beautifully engendering an overall sense of the character’s regret and obligation.

Whilst Fatima seems to deplore her choices, the characterisation of Lily is intriguingly constructed as a free spirit, a contrasting counterpart. She is astonishingly unapologetic, piquant and ebullient. The rebel as it were, with her refusing to ‘play by society’s rules’. For instance, Nisa and Fatima discuss the importance of being good in the kitchen and looking nice in order to keep your man, whilst Lily pointedly remarks that though it is expected, nobody can be good at everything and how exhausting it is to try, questioning why things can’t be different. Leaving Nisa as the youthful, idealistic middle ground. She clutches the youth Fatima laments and is seemingly heading down the same path already married, whilst her utopian thoughts occasionally align with Lily’s. Said must thus be congratulated on creating such effervescent and driven characters, manifesting as both raw and risible. Whilst the delivery from Siti Zuraida, (Lily), Suhaili Safari, (Nisa) and Nur Khairiyah Ramli, (Fatima) is equally as strong and beguiling.

The overall drive of the commentary is importantly focussed on that of intersectionality, Islamophobia and the #MeToo movement. Though these thematics start out as little nuggets hidden within the piece, we are eventually force-fed a lot of the ideology, unfortunately not allowing the work to subtly speak for itself. That being said there are wonderful moments of sisterhood and solidarity, for example when Fatima rubs Nisa’s belly to help her digestion, demonstrating her seniority or, when the women take a moment to remember those who had fought for them, such as Joan of Ark and Malala Yousafzai. Similarly, there are fleeting and poignant mentions of domestic abuse, miscarriage and the wearing of the burka, an exegesis on identity, the female experience and freedom. Culminating in an interesting excursion, but one that perhaps doesn’t have quite the dramatic climax it deserves, instead it is an ethereal and haunting dialogue, all set on one level.

To conclude the witty and often sad conversing of the three women, does much to for the most part foster a clever and emotive dialogue on the world of women, particularly of Southeast Asian Muslim women. It is jovial, but overall dark and piercing.

 
Siti Zuraida – Lily
Suhaili Safari – Nisa
Nur Khairiyah Ramli – Fatima

Writer: Nabilah Said
Director: Zhui Ning Chang
Designer: Rana Fadavi
Lighting: Raycher Phua
Sound: Nicola Chang
Production: Deanna Dzulkifli for Lazy Native

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

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Dear Elizabeth, Gate Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

So unbelievably playful and strong!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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