Prima Facie @ Harold Pinter Theatre

Photo credit: Helen Murray

Prima Facie, starring Jodie Comer, is a one-woman show depicting the growth of a working-class girl from the North of England, Tessa, as she goes through law school. Thrilled by the challenge which practising law presents her (spot any inconsistencies in a testimony so that it cannot possibly be believed beyond reasonable doubt) Tessa sails through her studies as a lawyer and begins winning cases. However, when she becomes a victim of sexual assault, her conviction that the justice system works for all is challenged. 

Anybody who has seen Killing Eve will know that Jodie Comer thrives in multi-role play, and this piece is no exception. Throughout the piece Jodie presents two versions of Tessa. Her ‘authentic self’ – when at home with her family, or in monologue to the audience – where she speaks in a thick Liverpudlian accent using colloquial language, and her ‘improved self’ – when in dialogue with her fellow law students- where her accent is significantly muted. The show follows this see-sawing effect, only departing when she embodies a new character altogether, in turn offering more voices, postures and gaits. Her ability to carry the piece with its several characters was impressive but not surprising. 

The staging of the piece was simple in theme, adopting a courtroom-styled stage, with two large wooden desks centre stage, as case files formed the walls of the stage. The simplicity of the set allowed Jodie to manipulate the desks to suit each scene, whether that’s standing on them when speaking in a courthouse, or dancing on them at a nightclub, the desks were transformed to suit the setting. This was a necessary component of such a fast-paced piece and the courtroom style served a looming presence in the later, more sinister scenes. 

The content of the script was witty but poignant. Highlighting first the class and gender imbalances in top universities, before delving deep into the often blurry, and traumatic recollections of sexual assault. The show proves that the justice system’s principle of beyond reasonable doubt, which was developed in 1935, unsurprisingly fails to succeed in prosecuting the guilty, and protecting the innocent in crimes in all cases, most especially when the recollection of events is blurry or witnesses lacking.

I won’t give any more away here, other than to say this is a transformative piece, with a simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking performance from Jodie Comer.

The Lion @ Southwark playhouse

01-06-2022

Photo credit : Pamela Raith

The Lion is an autobiographical musical which feels more like an intimate folk gig, come comedy night. The set – a wooden thrust stage, which made you feel part of the action, and dispersed dangling bulbs, which could be mistaken for candle light – excellently fitted the mood of the piece.

Max Alexander-Taylor performs the true story of Ben Scheuer in this one person show. Max begins by hanging out with the audience, before sitting down on the edge of the stage with his accoustic guitar to play.

The piece is musically and emotionally intelligent; despite much of the content of the play being weighty, it moves through stories of love, grief, and illness with a unique lightness. A series of guitars represent the stages of Scheur’s life, and Max performs with an energy that keeps the story feeling exciting and warm. His vocal range enables him to inhabit each stage of the story, and his playing ability is impressive, not to mention his obvious likeability.

The Lion is witty, funny, heartwarming and heartbreaking all in one, and a great watch for anyone looking for something different.

Fair play @ Bush theatre

(Photo credit: Ali Wright) 22.01.22

Fair Play focuses on the growing friendship of two teen athletes, whose shared determination to make it to the athletics world championships unites them, against the odds. The play centres the around the theme of what constitutes a ‘head start’ in athletics, where privilege and opportunity seem insignificant, but body types come under intense scrutiny.

The staging for the show was minimalist, with just a single red carpet floor, performed in the round, with a few metal structures forming climbing frames on opposite corners of the stage. These metal structures facilitated the girl’s training sessions, as well as acting as hang out spots in their free time. Lighting was used frequently throughout to help bring to life their races, with a digital clock displayed on the ground, and flashing lights as they ran. This was a really effective use of a small space, but I would’ve liked to have seen the set go further, maybe with scene changes to reflect their evolving relationship.

Overall, the thematic content of the play lead to an interesting and current debate on women’s sports, as well as womanhood more broadly. It revels in the joys of friendships, while highlighting dark sides to competitive sports. However, the fact the script centres so much around their training sessions, and solely on two characters, limited its options for dramatisation and often left us wanting more to watch.

The performances by NicK King and Charlotte Beaumont were thorough, with excellent physicalisation of the racing, and believable ability to convey emotions as well as their ever-changing relationship. One thing that bothered me in the direction was their almost never-ending out of breath speech, which I felt somewhat laboured the point and could have been used more sparingly. Nonetheless a well thought out and dedicated performance.

If you have a passion for current affairs and athletics, this is a great minimalist watch.

The Rhythmics @ The Southwark Playhouse

(Photo: Alex Brenner) 08.12.2021

Think the full monty meets the technological age, and you have new British musical comedy The Rhythmics. Grey, a middle-aged single dad of Silva who mourns his failed career as a rock star, is encouraged to audition for Nick & The Rhythmics, only to realise he has unwittingly signed up for an all-male Rhythmic Gymnastics group. In a bid to prove to his daughter that he can commit to something, he begrudgingly joins the group which gives him a new sense of direction.

The Rhythmics is a hilarious, heartwarming and refreshingly modern tale about companionship, perseverance and regret. It isn’t all men in leotards and twirling ribbons – although the choreography and musical numbers are brilliant – the real heart of the piece stems from the relationships these burly men form with one another in the process. This laugh out loud comedy provides the perfect tonic for the chaos that we are experiencing right now. One of the most beautiful aspects of the piece was that it was part performed in sign language, with all of the dialogue presented in text on a screen upstage, so that it was accessible for deaf viewers.

It is a harsh irony that due to Covid-19 the rest of the show’s run at The Southwark Playhouse has been cancelled, but hopefully in the new year it will be possible to catch this piece again!

Straight White Men @ Southwark Playhouse

16.11.2021

Straight White Men, unsurprisingly, is a play which depicts a family of four straight white men. Three brothers performed by Charlie Condou, Cary Crankson and Alex Mugnaioni and their father, Simon Rouse, have come together at Christmas time. However, unlike most straight white men, they are a family with an intense interest in socio economic power structures, and spend their Christmas discussing their white male privilege, and what to do with it.

The play began with two queer black actors, Kim Tatum and Kamari Roméo, soundtracked by loud club music, introducing the show as one which centres around straight white men. They then reappear at several times throughout the show, forming the transition between scene changes, occasionally bursting into song, or helping to stage for the next scene. The show’s poster contains only the two black actors, so found it odd to see them so rarely featured in the piece. But, if intentional, this is a really witty way of highlighting exploitation of diversity for financial gain.

The set was, for the most part, naturalistic in style, depicting a family home, with photo frames on the wall, a fireplace with Christmas cards, and a stereo which was used throughout. Surrounding the living room set was what appeared to be the inside of a night club, with flashing neon lights and a black background. This allowed the start of the piece to feel very much like you were attending a queer night club, rather than a night at the theatre. However, I’m not sure why this experience was necessary, as though black and queer culture are supposed to be synonymous with club culture?

The acting from the straight white men of the piece was top quality; their bond as a family was believable, and at times poignant, covering topics of grief, mental health, and financial stability. Their roles as overgrown children were horribly relatable and laugh out loud funny. However, I found the performances of Kim Tatum and Kamari Roméo messy at times and I would’ve liked them to have gone further in their roles, so that their purpose could be better understood.

I found Straight White Men at the Southwark Playhouse comedic and poignant, presented in a thought-provoking (though not yet fully realised) way. I would like the show’s two elements feel less disjointed, although maybe that is the point?

Not Our Play @ Rosemary Branch Theatre

21.11.2021

Returning to the Rosemary Branch Theatre for another crafty piece, Not Our Play was a fun experience. Not Our Play is a piece written by anonymous (though clearly theatre minded) members of the public, and printed on stage at the start of the piece. It is then performed by two actors, who perform script in hand, with a third actor sat on stage reading the stage directions.

It goes without saying that this is not a refined piece of theatre, and it is naturally self aware. It introduces the cast as ‘the actors’ and continually refers to ‘the audience’, so if it is escapist theatre you’re after, this won’t be one for you. Its style feels a bit like a glorified read-through rather than a piece of theatre, but the wacky script content, which includes audience interaction and multi-role play, made it entertaining nonetheless. The quality of the acting was surprisingly good for the play’s unfinished nature, and the actors did an incredible job of leaping into each scene despite the fact they had no context. However, I did find their inability to keep a straight face in this undeniably funny piece, slightly frustrating. Not Our Play invites exploration of contemporary topics and has some real laugh at loud moments. I can see it working well at festivals and other touring events, but I’d say it is best enjoyed through the lens of a theatre background.

Not Our Play is a thought provoking, fun night for theatre enthusiasts who are looking for something a little different and less finalised.

Rainer @ Arcola Theatre

04.10.2021

Arriving at Arcola Theatre’s outdoor space, I was pleasantly surprised, without yet knowing how suitable the venue would be for this piece. Sure enough, the opening scene showed Sorcha Kennedy as Rainer, walking through the audience, helmet, and ‘Angel Deliveries’ jacket on. This introduced the play as one which frequently broke the fourth wall, as Rainer began by addressing the audience directly.

Depicting the story of a woman who is forced to take up a job as a food delivery cyclist, as she isn’t quite ‘making it’ as a writer, Rainer is a funny, witty and at times, sinister piece. Throughout the show Sorcha performs multi-role play, becoming all the people Rainer interacts with, including an ex-boyfriend, a current love interest, and her boss, just to name a few. Her use of accents was a joy to watch, and the multi-role play really showed her versatility as an actor. I think the multi-role play could’ve been tidied up in places; I would’ve liked to have seen her perform the characters varying mannerisms, and ensuring that Rainer’s voice didn’t blur into the voices of those character’s she was depicting. However, the pace of the piece was demanding and her performance, nonetheless, impressive.

Throughout the play Rainer’s deliveries are interrupted by snippets of Rainer’s counselling sessions with her ‘shit NHS counsellor’. These scenes successfully explored mental health within a backdrop of underfunded mental health services in the UK. The script was rich in thematic content, with other topics including love, class, sexual assault, grief and (of course) COVID-19. I found the content of the play entirely relatable, and its exploration of these themes nuanced, all the while being laugh out loud funny. The brilliance of the script made sense when I discovered that its writer, Max Wilkinson, has previously won the Stage to Screen Award.

Throughout the play Sorcha frequently ran laps around the audience, while on her one of many ‘trips’ around London. The scripts successful ability to depict the areas of London meant that you felt you were on that journey with her, visualising each setting as she whizzed past. The ‘pinging’ of the delivery app, jolting her into action again and again, while the slightly less warm auditorium aided the realism. The ever changing settings were depicted usually by a small change in lighting, or music, with very little need for props. Despite the sparse stage, the writing and performance convinced you of the scenes.

All in all, I think the writing, performance, lighting and sound came together to provide a unique and gripping show. I’d love to see more of Max’s writing, and I think Sorcha’s energy and versatility make her an exciting performer to watch. I think if you get a chance, absolutely catch this piece before it finishes!

When Rachel Met Fiona @ The Space Theatre

Attending When Rachel Met Fiona at The Space Theatre, I was met by a thin traverse stage, with the audience sat on either side. A tall set of shelves were situated upstage, while a small coffee table stood to the left of the stage. Naturally the staging choice sparked my intrigue, but once the play began it felt like a clever way of bringing Rachel and Fiona’s relationship to life.

Performed by Megan Jarvie and Florence Russell, When Rachel Met Fiona is an incredibly well written lesbian love story by Colette Cullen, which reveals snippets of Rachel and Fiona’s relationship, from its onset to its decided finish point. I found the dialogue incredibly moving, as well as witty in its ability to portray both the mundanities and tribulations of love. The story begins, like all best love stories, in a less than ideal fashion, with one person already dating someone else. This sets the tone for the play; one which is honest, open, and sometimes ugly in its exploration of love. As we move through the play, the traverse stage serves to show the ebbs and flows of the relationship as they are frequently at opposites ends, swapping sides or varying their height. This in turn causes the audience’s heads to move from one end to the other, making the push and pull of their relationship physical for the audience.

The passing of time in the play is usually signified by a scene change, where the lighting will dim momentarily and the scene’s opening line reveals how far along in their journey we have travelled. A new scene comes with a new prop each time. Frequently this was alcohol, but other significant or homely items are brought into each scene. This was a clever way of not distracting from the scene, while also bringing something new into it. At several points in the play, the stage becomes like a black board that they can draw on with chalk, physicalising their thoughts into something material.

However, I couldn’t help but feel like I still wanted more from the direction in this show, as there were times where I felt that – due to the pure brilliance of the script- I could’ve just shut my eyes and treated it as an excellent audiobook. I wanted to not be able to take my eyes off them, but I think there was too little action to achieve this. Maybe it is a limitation of a script which is so descriptive, but I think because it was stripped of its naturalistic setting, we needed to see something more in their performance to account for that. Instead, we received a very ordinary portrayal of a couple, within a slightly less ordinary backdrop. I was left craving for something to watch.

That being said, the show was a brilliant exploration of LGBTQIA+ relationships, containing content such as fertility treatment and division of labour within the home, performed with amazing sincerity by Florence and Rachel, who were both well suited to the naturalistic style. It is important to recognise that there is still far too little on stage which explores the realities for LGBTQIA+ people, and When Rachel Met Fiona does this beautifully.

Theatre Returns @ The Shakespeare’s Globe

Photo credit Marc Brenner

04.07.2021

Walking into the wooded stands of The Shakespeare’s Globe, aside from a little extra spacing and the lack of a standing audience, it was almost as if nothing had changed. The Globe’s new version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet had clearly taken the lessons from the last year, in an attempt to provide something new, as the revised script allowed for a heightened focus on mental health.

This contemporary exploration of Romeo and Juliet saw Romeo riding around the stage on his BMX, Mercutio puffing on a vape and party scenes soundtracked by Mike Skinner’s ‘Who’s got the bag?’. This helped the play’s relatability, but also successfully divided the Montagues and Capulets by class and character. The fight scenes took on a new significance as they stabbed one another in their tracksuits, the audience were reminded of the rise in London knife crime amongst teenage boys. The red and black costume colour theme brought a cohesiveness to the costume design, as Juliet often wore an oversized red hoodie with tartan pocket and matching hair band, while Romeo wore an all black tracksuit with small details of red. The most unique aspect of the show came from the interjecting statistics around mental health and race, which after the last year of lockdowns and #BLM felt especially poignant. The show closed with details for the Samaritans, displayed in red on the stage screen.

The stand out performance from the show came from Alfred Enoch, who played Romeo, as he successfully performed the Shakespearean language in a way that was believable and relatable as well as achieving a compelling emotional performance. The downsides of the show came mostly from the draw backs of the staging – occasionally speech is lot in the open space and unless you are lucky enough to be face on, you are probably going to miss some of the action. The set and prop design was basic, but these are all things we sign up for in the name of tradition and therefore, I don’t think can fairly be criticised. I found that despite excellent performance’s from both, the speeches from Adam Gillen (Mercutio) and Zoe West (Benvolio) often lacked the same clarity as Enoch’s and huge chunks of script were lost. On the whole I have very little complain about the show, apart from the fact that I think they could’ve pushed the contemporary adaptation further, maybe to include social media or a discussion of race, to give us something more revolutionary.

I found this version of Romeo and Juliet poignant progressive and fun, with strong performances and witty staging choices.

8/10








Theatre returns @ The Garrick Theatre

Photo credit: The Gay Times

06.06.2021

My second show since return of the theatre, Death Drop, was a contrast in style and talent, to the first.

Death Drop is best described as a fun Dragatha Christie, starring Drag Race royalty: Latrice Royale and Willam. The show depicts a group of fictional z list celebrities, played by drag queens and kings, attending a ten year anniversary dinner for Charles and Diana (whom they assume will be attending), hosted by a woman they’ve mysteriously never heard of. However, not long into their evening the death of the first attendee raises suspicions about their invite to the house. As the plot probably suggests, the show is stupid at its core. It pokes fun at the inadequacies of theatre in all the ways we know how, from farcical multi-role play to comedic uses of special effects. If drag is your bag, and you don’t mind a lot of cheesy humour and average acting, then this is the show for you.

It goes without saying that unless you are a fan of Drag Race or drag more broadly, this show probably isn’t worth your time. However, I was pleasantly surprised that both Latrice Royale and Willam proved themselves as more than just names to pull in the crowds. Willam’s vocals were impressive; she felt fitting to the West-End stage, while Latrice had a good stage presence. These were not the only drag royals of the show, Myra Dubois, who played the show’s host, was a semi-finalist in Britain’s Got Talent 2020, while LoUis CYfer who played ‘Rich Whiteman’ was the first drag king to win Drag Idol UK. The cast were definitely the highlight of the show, as a group of drag performers at the top of their game.

Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t much I loved about the show outside of the drag. Contrary to The Gay Times suggestion that the writing was ‘exactly the tonic we needed’, I think the cast were let down by an overly simplistic script, which at times felt like it had just given up on finding ways to captivate the audience, or even be comedic. The best aspects of the script came in the form of lampooning patriarchy, which was held together brilliantly by the physical comedy of the drag kings. Elements of multi-role play were also used well, such as the triplets performed by the same actor, under the pretence that the ‘real’ actors had food poisoning. However, in places it all felt a bit GCSE drama, with tongue twisters like ‘Peter piper picked a pepper’ forming about five minutes of the second act, and jokes around delayed sound queues that became boring. Even the deaths became unimaginative, as at some point they switched from mystery black outs to an out of place ninja in lycra. In short, the comedy often lacked wit. I wasn’t expecting top quality theatre, I was just disappointed that I wasn’t proven wrong. I had hoped at the very least the set design would help explain the far from cheap ticket prices. In true murder mystery fashion, there was just one set throughout. Yet, it was predictable in style and appeared inexpensive compared with other West-End shows.

This is not to suggest that I didn’t find the show enjoyable, I did, however, I think it would’ve been best kept as a drag show, rather than theatre.

5/10