Pride & Prejudice, The Scoop

Nothing says summer quite like a spot of outdoor performance with a picnic. The Scoop between Tower Bridge and London Bridge is a great spot for such entertainment: a large amphitheatre on the river, with plenty of shops nearby in which to pick up food and drink to bring to the show. Best of all, the entertainment they lay on for the summer is free. The Pantaloons are at the Scoop for a few days before setting off on their summer tour with an adapted Pride & Prejudice is trademark Pantaloons style.

Fans of the novel and its various film and television incarnations are in for a treat, though this is unlike any Pride & Prejudice ever seen before. Five actors take on all the roles and add narration to keep the story moving at a brisk pace. They are decked in Regency costume other than brightly coloured trainers, capturing the feel of the play: genuine with a touch of playful irreverence. With the addition of improvisation, music and audience interaction, this is a jolly production that captures the joie de vivre of historical popular theatre.

Barring Alex Rivers as Elizabeth, the other actors multi-role, playing the more minor characters as panto caricatures. The Bennett girls’ friend Charlotte Lucas is a shallow, tea-drinking gossip. Christopher Smart is an amusingly pompous and geeky Mr Collins. Both Smart and the other male actor Edward Ferrow occasionally take on female roles, like a more sedate version of panto dames. These lighter moments involve much chatting with the audience and self-mocking any line fluffs. Wisely, the silliness is disregarded in favour of sincerity in the longer, more serious scenes. The show has the perfect balance between silly and serious, following Elizabeth and Darcy’s love story despite the compression of the plot. The entire cast give excellent performances, carrying though the challenge of working outdoors and attacking the script with energy and enthusiasm. They clearly love what they do.

Both audience and performers are relaxed and enjoying themselves. The script mocks more traditional versions of the story, but doesn’t take itself too seriously, either. With the audience free to come and go as well as the feel of a summertime community gathering, the event is reminiscent of The Globe, or a team of travelling players on their summer rounds to places great and small. Which is exactly what The Pantaloons are.

The play runs for about two and a half hours, with an interval. Whilst it is satisfying to see a full-length show for free, it began to feel like it could do with being shorter. Though the Scoop is a great venue, sitting on stone in the Thames wind does get rather uncomfortable after awhile. The length is probably more palatable in a sheltered park with deck chairs or blankets. Condensing the original novel to this length is commendable, but could do with being half an hour shorter. Considering the audience freedom, an interval isn’t particularly necessary either.

As The Pantaloons Pride & Prejudice travels through the country stopping off at scenic estates and venues, it is certainly worth catching this excellent example of summer popular theatre. Bring your friends, family and a picnic, and revel in the community enjoying and celebrating theatre accessable for everyone.

The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.

Gypsy, Savoy Theatre

23725_fullWhen you think of musical theatre you think of singing and dancing. Sequins and jazz hands. Sparkling smiles and happiness. More recent musicals have been experimenting hugely with structure and form, but written in the 1950s, Gypsy was ahead of its time. With a focus on the main characters’ journeys rather glitz and glamour, this production creates a new standard for outstanding acting in musical theatre.

Imelda Staunton is without a doubt the star of the show. Rose’s tenacity and gradual unraveling is played with nuance, conviction and unfailing energy. Peter Davison’s Herbie contrasts Rose’s brashness with a quiet devotion, creating a lovely dynamic but that painfully mirrors every failed relationship. Though Lara Pulver’s journey from the shy Louise to the cold Gypsy Rose Lee is inevitable, it taps into the vulnerability of all characters involved. Her naïve devotion completes a charming, though dysfunctional threesome that eventually crumbles. None of these three principal actors relied on hackneyed, two-dimensional characterizations that are so easy to adopt in musical theatre.

The book certainly helps, providing a vigorous, well-constructed skeleton on which the actors lovingly add meat and flesh. The only point when the book lets down the show in the final scene. In this case, the ambiguity is unsatisfying. The show could have ended earlier, when Rose finally comes to terms with her actions, or she could have been left by Louise to face the loneliness of a life alone. Otherwise, this genre-defining book musical holds up wonderfully.

The Savoy is a splendid setting for Gypsy, capturing the grand bygone days of vaudeville and the sort of houses Rose yearns to play. The Savoy juxtaposes the meta-theatrical set of the shabby world of the regional houses Rose’s kids actually play. It’s omnipresent, just out of her reach as a shadow she can’t see properly beyond the footlights, but one that adds to the audience’s visual experience immensely. The sequins and glitter Rose eventually encounters bedeck intimidating, crude burlesque performers signifying the demise of the grand old days of vaudeville and the decent into the more sexualized, desperate world of the Great Depression.

This production is one to see for those people that are not keen on musical theatre but want the experience of brilliant acting and character development. Of course there are songs and dances, but they are not the focal point of the show. This is a musical that brushes the genre, but doesn’t overwhelm with anything other than some of the best British talent gracing the West End musical stage.

The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.

Troilus & Cressida, everything theatre

“A single, long table spans the width of the stage, brightly decorated for a party. As the sixteen strong cast conga in and fill the stage, there is clearly something to celebrate. The Trojans are winning the war and Troy is having a party…

“…Pandarus is Cressida’s camp, matchmaking uncle, well played by Matt Butcher. His performance is the best of the production. Troilus (Nicholas Farr) and Cressida (Colette O’Rourke) follow, with a genuine portrayal of young love and devotion…

“The entire cast is onstage for the whole performance, making transitions instant and effectively enhancing the setting…Due to the extensive cuts, fast pace and the constant presence of the ensemble, the smaller roles are rather indistinct…

“Other standout performances come from Charlotte Mafham as Cassandra and CJ de Mooi as Thersites…The rest of the cast deliver the language fluidly and skillfully. Director Ricky Dukes certainly knows how to choose performers with an innate sense for Shakespeare’s linguistic nuances.

“Dukes is an accomplished director, having been running Lazarus Theatre Company for several years. He is committed to approaching and reinventing Shakespeare for modern audiences…If you want to see high-quality, cutting edge fringe Shakespeare, see one of his productions…”

Read the entire review on everything theatre here.

Feature – Working Artists Far Away from Family: How Do You Start a Family of Your Own?

Lyn Gardner is calling for childcare reform in the theatre industry. In an article in The Guardian, she points out the need for childcare in the evenings to enable those working in theatre to do their jobs. As a parent herself, she states she, “would probably have dropped out too if I hadn’t been lucky enough to have willing parents nearby who could help out.” Natasha Tripney wrote a response in The Stage, interviewing two women working in theatre. The first quickly gives all the credit to her parents. The second, who co-runs a theatre company with her husband, also has childcare support from her parents. What also helps is that both women are established enough to be able to afford nannies and a couple of days at nursery. Parenting whilst working in the arts is clearly a possibility, particularly if you have family willing to share the responsibility of childcare and you are established in your. But what about those that do not have local familial support and do not have consistent work and income?

I am chatting with David, a box office assistant at a West End theatre, about the challenges of being a parent who works in theatre. Though he does not have the added complication of freelance work, shift work and late nights make childcare a micro-managed challenge. He says that as part of a small team, it can be tough to leave a shift even ten minutes early, but so far, he has not needed to make any major or last-minute demands. When I asked if parenting would be impossible without the routine of his partner’s nine-to-five, he replied, “Yes! Absolutely. Without the stability of one parent’s timetable to work around, it would be impossible for the children to manage all the changes shift work requires.”

David and his partner do not have a network of family to call on for childcare support. They rely on a good income and regular hours from one of them to enable the other to work in the arts. But what about the rest of us? Where are the freelancing couples that don’t earn enough to pay for childcare or have immediate family close by? This is a question I contemplate regularly as a thirty-something half of an arts working couple that would like to start a family, not one day, but soon. Sometimes I wonder if I’m fretting over nothing and if I should take the advice of well-intentioned friends and, “just go for it because it will all work out in the end.” Then I remember that my partner and I can’t even afford to rent a one-bedroom flat, let alone one large enough for raising a child. I cannot imagine my housemates would be pleased to share with a newborn.

Surely there must be others out there in similar situations. After a twitter and facebook callout, several responses reassured me that I wasn’t alone and reiterated a need for a cheap or free, flexible solution that those of us without family nearby can use without having to compromise our careers. I spoke to Laura, an actor in London and Sarah, an actor and artistic director of a company she recently founded in Manchester. Neither of them have children, but are in committed, long term relationships and hope to start families within a few years.

When asked what they would need to enable them to have children, Sarah immediately stated, “Access to free childcare! Regular free, or at least cheap, childcare!” Laura looks at the unreliability of her own income. She requires “a huge boost in notoriety…which would enable me to have a larger and more stable regular income or I’d have to give up my career for a family.” Money is clearly the problem. Cheap isn’t good enough, particularly in London with costs of living rising so steeply in comparison to wages. There isn’t much government support for self-employed people either, so financial support during maternity leave and early years is minimal.

What about taking a child to work with you? After all, the arts have the benefit of flexibility. Laura works a range of jobs to keep money coming in, including being “a massage therapist, science teacher, children’s entertainer, cabaret performer, corporate and events actor” in between acting roles. Looking at the responsibilities of these jobs, it’s clear that the majority of these roles would not suit having an infant or small child present. Of course, actors with financial stability and no need to day-job would be less affected by this. Sarah has her own company, but “I work from home…but I’m working, I can’t look after a child at the same time. I can’t be writing an Arts Council application whilst my 2 year old is downstairs putting their finger in a plug socket.” Something has to give, and it’s either work productivity or a level of attentiveness required from a parent.

Cameron’s government wants to increase the availability of childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds. Whilst I question the sustainability of this in practice due to an already-stretched child workforce, this still doesn’t help aspiring theatre parents of children younger than three. What if you need someone to look after your infant whilst you pop to an audition for a few hours, but you can’t afford a babysitter, your partner’s working and your parents aren’t local? We may like to think we can rely on friends, but considering my own friends’ lives, they will most likely be working, busy or expect some sort of payment that I wouldn’t be able to afford.

Sarah imagines a formalized, local network of parents who work in the arts. When joining, you commit to exchanging free childcare services on an as-needed basis and sharing your contact details with everyone else. “For example, if you have a job last minute you could contact people on the list and see if they could mind your child for free whilst you took the work, then you would return the favour with their child.” There could be meetups, socials and so forth to add an element beneficial to the members’ creative work rather than just focusing on childcare. This model isn’t flawless in practice, however. Such a network would need to be large enough to make the chance of not finding anyone available incredibly slim. Parents would need to have contact details pre-programmed in their phones so they could send one text out to everyone, otherwise it could take up precious time needed to get ready and get to that crucial audition/interview/meeting. The network would need to cover a fairly small geographic area, otherwise the total travel time would become unworkable.

These issues return us to the root causes of this problem: the gap between the cost of living and childcare, and the generally low income of jobbing artists is widening. Government subsidies for the self-employed are not enough, either in quantity or flexibility. Artists who live near their families or earn enough to pay for childcare may not be in the minority of creative parents, but there is an invisible demographic of the arts world that want to start a family but their current circumstances make it impossible to do so without compromising their career aspirations. None of the artists I spoke to had any concrete solutions that would enable them to become a parent whilst maintaining a career in the arts, and neither do I. Meanwhile, I feel like my time to become a parent is rapidly diminishing in a world of ever-increasing financial instability. I therefore need to open the question outwards: what do we do about low-income artists that want to start a family and don’t have family able to assist with childcare?

The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.

So It Goes, Greenwich Theatre


Hannah used to love running with her dad. When she was 17, her dad died and Hannah kept on running, silently and alone. She refused to speak about his death with anyone, including her family. So she decided rather than to navigate the burden of speech, she would create a silent play that tells her dad’s story and her process of dealing with his death. So It Goes is a sweet two-hander that manages to avoid over-sentimentality by focusing on the honest, deeply individual story of navigating life after the death of a parent.

Other than the last line, there is absolutely no speech in this play. All text is written on small whiteboards worn around the actors’ necks or on pre-made signs. This keeps written communication basic; it is rather like watching a comic book or graphic novel being written. This could occasionally feel slow and it was often easy to predict what was coming next on the whiteboard within a scene, but not overly so and not often. The set and props are also simple, with signage and symbolic items representing other characters and jumps in time and place. Most props are drawn outlines of objects, adding humour and a sense of youthful play to the story. The physical performance style matches- it is exaggerated but simplified, physical theatre but not ornate, embellished or for the sole purpose of showing the actors’ physical prowess. So It Goes wants to tell Hannah’s story as clearly and simply as possible, focusing on truthfulness and emotional honesty. The look of the play would certainly appeal to children, but accessing adults’ inner child makes the experience of losing a parent a journey that ends with positive reflection rather than the bitterness of loss.

The performances are equally lovely. Hannah Moss plays herself, and has “help” telling the story from David Ralfe, who plays her Dad and Mum. Ralfe in drag has an initial hit of comedy, but he taps into Mum’s outward expression of hopelessness that soon makes the audience forget that it’s a bloke in a dress. The two actors embody an exaggeration familiar to children’s theatre that is also in keeping with the cartoon aesthetic of the production, but is not crude. If they did not employ the exaggeration or humour in their physical comedy, it would make audiences want to slit their wrists. Instead, there was a lot of sniffling and nose blowing mixed in with laughter.

This is the third play I have seen about death in recent weeks. Each production used a dramatically different approach to convey the same message. Hannah spelled it out for us by writing that her dad “didn’t just die, he lived.” There’s an overabundance of factors in the world that can easily depress us and forget to look for the little moments of daily joy in our own lives, but So It Goes provides a celebratory reminder to do so through a pared down, visual-textual hybrid of physical theatre. Though the tour has now finished of their debut production, On the Run Theatre is certainly a company to watch.

Intention: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Outcome: ☆ ☆ ☆

Star Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.

This Is How We Die, Battersea Arts Centre

Chris Brett Bailey is a bard of thhqdefaulte modern age. Like Elizabethan theatre the audience went to hear rather than to see, This Is How We Die is a bombardment of the ears rather than the eyes. Using spoken word and beat poetry to tear open the world as we know it, Bailey forces us to confront the horrors and beauty of everyday existence. This piece of theatre moves away from the trend of visual theatre, taking the audience on a self-reflective ride of their lives.

At just over an hour, we are hurtled on a journey through Bailey’s rage against “-isms” and “-ists,” a brutal first meeting with his overly-literal girlfriend’s parents and a Hunter S. Thompson-like roadtrip through the American desert. His delivery is relentless, pausing only for comic effect or to take small sips of water from the glass that sits on his desk. Yes, a desk. He sits at a desk, with his script in front of him. This form rails against the increasingly visual culture we live in but it forces the audience to really and truly listen. He has a lot to say that he feels strongly about and you need to hear it.

Trying to describe what This Is How We Die is about is futile. Anything descriptive about plot or narrative arc will make this piece sound simplistic and trite. The feature that really makes this a must-see is Bailey’s visceral use of language. He savours it, relishes it and throws it away. A sea of sound washes over us, then pummels us, unarmed, in a back alley behind some dingy American bar. His imagery alternates between abstract and concrete, the highlight being his girlfriend’s neo-Nazi father left shaped like a swastika after a car accident.

The last ten minutes or so abandons speech, instead favouring live ambient music and harsh lighting. This is his Elizabethan jig, the audience’s catharsis after the emotional Sturm und Drang of the last hour. There was no point in fighting the journey of This Is How We Die so you may as well join him. Share in his rage, his joy and his passion. Relish the world you live in and the sounds of the words that pour so easily from his mouth. This isn’t about how we die, but how we should live.

The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.

My Initial Response to “This Is How We Die”

Today I gaze at anticipatory faces. Chasing A-stars, they wait.

And wait.

And wait.

I struggle to face the mundane day lazily unwinding in front of me. The bullet train fever dream of last night’s memory rips at my periphery but I have piles of goddamn exam papers to hand out and count down the time for those little eyes lined up in front of me.

“You have seventy-five minutes to complete this exam paper. Raise your hand if you need anything. You must not speak.”

You must not speak.                         You must not speak.                     You must not speak.

The silence of rustling papers and scratching pens and scraping chairs deafens me. Fatigue caresses my face already propped up by tapping, restless fingers frustrated with marking the correctness of the explanation of hot seating and how its used in my year 9 Drama class.

The middle distance pops up, slides in.

I ruminate.

Never had I thought I’d find Shakespeare reincarnate, but he’s there, under the rioting hair of a Canadian paranoiac, raging at the space he faces of pairs of eyes lined up. He bombards, he bashes, he races. The world we know but ignore is exposed. The guts hang out, the greed, the hate. The racism, the fascism, all those “isms” and “ists” that stain and distend, that we block out to keep out tiny, insignificant spheres of existence perfect and quiet and numb.

This bard makes us see.

He stops.                                                                                                           He whispers.

Just him at a desk with a script and a glass and some lights.

And us. We face him. We hear him. We drink in his sounds, his words, his allegorical tales of love found and lost and open road desert adventure. This is confessional. This is a soul ripped open and we are going to ingest it, whether we want that screaming, raw mass inside us or not. Not through our mouths, but with our ears we catch his lightning, eventually blinded by words and light and music.

We are overcome.

We are left.

We are the catalysts of our own change.

The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.