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?

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.

I May Destroy You- The first in a new wave of writing.

Photograph:BBC Pictures.

I May Destroy You is an eye opening focus on sexual assault following a young writer called Arabella and her group of friends. The story begins with Arabella attempting to complete a writing submission by morning, but she is quickly tempted into attending a night out with a male friend nearby. Sat back in the office the next day feeling hazy, she becomes suspicious when she realises she can’t remember smashing her phone or how she got back, beginning her investigation into what happened that night. As she comes to terms with her assault, the script explores it through the characters which surround her and it starts to feel as though trauma is lurking in every corner of society. I May Destroy You is a great piece of writing, one of many ‘firsts’ for the BBC, however it isn’t the strongest piece the BBC have produced.

A Representative Portrayal of Black London 
One of the most notable aspects of the piece is that Coel provides a relatable young black Londoner’s experience, as she soundtracks the series with black content creators and musicians. I May Destroy You reveals the failures of other BBC dramas; all too often they present only one dimensional black characters, involved with gang crime or living in poverty. Coel presents black people in positions of power and wealth, in creative work as well as in the traditional first generation home.

The Creative’s Struggle
It is clear from the writing that Coel is young and newly established, as she spends much of her time focusing on the young creatives struggle and the pain that often comes with freelance work. We see it in Arabella’s battle to stay as a commissioned writer while dealing with trauma and missing a formal education, as well as with her best friend Terry’s attempts to get cast for low level acting jobs. One of my favourite aspects of the whole series was seeing them ecstatic for Terry for finally landing a paid TV commercial, even though it was brief and cheesy. It is this that made me realise how rarely the BBC has reflected the young creative battle that so many are familiar with.

Sexual Assault 
Finally and most significantly, Coel discusses the many guises of sexual assault, as she educates the viewer in consent, through some grim but truthful scenes. I May Destroy You strays from the usual heteronormative portrayal of rape on screen, which spends little emotional time with the victims and assumes all the victims to be female. It instead presents a vulnerable society, where anyone could fall victim in a wide variety of ways. Most importantly the series places more focus on subsequent trauma, than on the event itself. From the millennial need to turn your trauma into ‘social media inspiration’, to pathetic art therapies, it explores the long term effect of sexual assault. Good and evil are constantly trading places as the lines between victim and perpetrator blur continually, showing that it isn’t as black and white as the media would often have you believe. The best discussion of trauma however, came in the ending which speaks to both the reality of most conclusions of sexual assault, as well as what real recovery from trauma looks like. Often it is not vengeance or ‘justice’, but letting go which is considered to be the best possible ending.

However, while Coel undoubtedly presents a powerful script filled with originality, the delivery lacked subtlety and flow. I found the throwing around of timelines amateur and the obviousness of the content frustrating. Everything being said was great, it just felt too forced. I May Destroy You is said to be ‘revolutionary’ and while Coel was certainly the first to bring such an inclusive portrayal of sexual assault and young person experience to the screen, her content is simply a reflection of millennial and gen- Z Twitter and Instagram feeds, moved into mainstream media. Although this is certainly a feat, and it is great to finally see social media discourse and TV merging, I think we can expect to see better dramas coming forward from the new generation of writers who are also familiar with this same online narrative. I May Destroy You is a season of firsts, but it certainly won’t be the last or the best executed.

7/10

BlackAF

Photograph: Gabriel Delerme

Looking for an easy watch comedy during the lockdown? Look no further than Kenya Barris’ BlackAF, following on from his earlier series ‘black-ish’, ‘grown-ish’ and ‘mixed-ish’. Despite being criticised for being a rehashing of ‘Black Ish’, viewed in separation this is a funny and fresh watch, readily available at your Netflix fingertips. The series is a satirised depiction of Kenya Barris’ life, a wealthy comedy writer, presented as a documentary attempt by the protagonist’s daughter for her college application. Showing his black middle class family living in a white middle class world, the series confronts issues of prejudice, cultural identity, and ‘black art’ success in a way that (prior to Black Ish), I had never seen before. Kenya Barris may need to push himself to get away from the shadow of Black Ish, but here he has stuck to what he does best: expounding on his personal narrative in a satirical context.

Mustang – film recommends.

Photograph: Allstar/Canal+

A tale of sisterhood.

This Turkish language film by Turkish-French film director Deniz Gamze Ergüven is set in a small village, near to Istanbul. The film depicts five orphaned sisters who live with their grandmother and presents their struggle growing up in a conservative society. The plot begins with typical childhood scenes of the girls on their way home from school, playing with a group of boys in the sea. When they reach home however, they are met with fury for bringing ‘shame’ on their family and are forbidden from leaving the house. The film is an aggressive discussion of female oppression in conservative countries, covering dark topics such as gender violence, assault and suicide. However, it is the friendship, rebellion and most importantly sisterhood, which makes this film so memorable.

A stunningly portrayed feminist work, 8/10.

The Dirty Thirty by Degenerate Fox

06.03.2020

Attending Degenerate Fox’s International women’s day piece at the Rosebranch Theatre, a member of the cast on the ticket booth chewing gum and shouting us in, set the tone for this less than usual production. Thirty, two minute pieces, the order of which is decided by the audience who are reading the plays off a ‘menu’. The pieces begin with the cast shouting ‘go’ and close with ‘curtain’. Asking the sound man if he is ready, shouting that they need certain props between pieces, there is no fourth wall in this chaotic piece. In this international women’s day special they focussed on a range of mini pieces, performed by it’s LGBTQ international cast. My favourite pieces were ones which focussed on trans issues such as the piece: ‘What we think of TERF’s’ where a TERF is represented by a glass of water which they treat as if it is infected before one of the cast member reluctantly edged towards the glass and chucked it through the door. Similarly, when discussing how it feels to be labelled something you are not, their cast member Jack held up a sign saying ‘woman’ and awkwardly tried to put it down a few times before reluctantly holding it and faking a smile. The piece was insightful and informative and the wide scope of the content reflected the diverse cast, covering broad topics such as sexual assault in Latin America, to listing inspirational women we might not have heard of. I’d love to see how their usual show compares to the factual nature of this piece. Admittedly, if you’re looking for high quality theatre, this isn’t it – the talent of the cast varies from what appears obviously trained actors to seemingly happy volunteers- but what it does provide is a fun show brimming with inclusivity. The cast could work on their conviction on delivery if they did wish to elevate this to a serious piece of theatre, however, I imagine as this was a special it may have been put together very quickly. I can see this company at festivals or as a fun, more boozy night out. If you are member of the LGBTQ community this company are ones to watch!

A Taste of Honey @Trafalgar Studios

29.02.2020

I caught the final performance of the National Theatre revived 1958 British classic A Taste of Honey at Trafalgar Studios, starring Jodie Prenger as Helen and Gemma Dobson as Jo. Walking in I was pleasantly surprised by the close nature of the auditorium, with only one tier you had to walk across the stage to reach the steps to your seat, as the cast were already on stage and the band played. This set the tone for the remainder of the play which felt very much like you were invading Helen and Jo’s flat in true kitchen-sink-drama style.

What I loved…

The comedy– It goes without saying that this piece is hilariously witty and real. Set in the North West of England it follows the relationship of two working class women, a mother and daughter, through the average to low times. Constant arguments and near bust ups, dating and parenthood the piece is a real discussion of the working class at that time.

Gemma Dobson’s performance– I find it unsurprising she won the Best Actress in a Play at The Stage Debut Awards in 2018, after having seen this performance. Originally from Leeds she had an easy transition to the Salford accent and her portrayal of sassy but compassionate Jo was both comedic and believable. Although I loved the dynamic between her and Jodie, her relationship with gay best friend Geof where she showed vulnerability and compassion, allowed her to show the depth of her abilities as an actress. Her talent matched the complexity of the script and stood out in an already talented cast.

The music – It seems as though integrating musicians within the set is a popular trend at the minute, changing the landscape of West-End theatre from the traditionally separate orchestra and cast dynamic. The instruments, much like in Girl From The North Country and Come From Away were present on stage at all times and both the piano and the drum kit were interacted with by the cast; it was an odd recognition of being a theatre piece. This time the music made the piece feel earthy, adding to the relaxed atmosphere of the living room it could have just been a record player.

If I had to moan – It seemed unusual to me that half the cast didn’t have Salford accents. It seemed this couldn’t have been a style choice to make Helen and Jo stand out, as Geof also had a Salford accent. Was this there way of making it more relatable, opening it up to the rest of the country? Or could they simply not hire enough northern actors? Either way I found that aspect of the piece confusing.

Incredible script, cast and staging. Hilarious throughout.