A Christmas Carol – The Musical, LOST Theatre

Providing opportunities for aspiring and emerging actors is no doubt a wonderful thing. LOST Theatre has been doing exactly this since its founding in 1979 through its stage school and regular in-house productions. Their current production of A Christmas Carol – The Musical captures LOST’s ethos and the spirt of Christmas in all of its joyful, communal and tacky glory with a cast composed of both amateurs and pros, including children. Though the finished product is more like a child’s finger painting than the Mona Lisa, their joy in performing is undeniable.

Alan Menken’s 1994 musical is typical of its era – a big cast, barnstorming numbers and a commitment to musicalise the most non-musical of stories. There are some great ensemble numbers, though the mixed ability cast and unreliable sound levels diminish their power. Songs with fewer characters have more emotional reach, even though the sound still isn’t great. Choreography is inconsistent, with some songs tightly choreographed whilst others look like aimless wandering about. Co-directors Martin John Bristol and Mark Magill otherwise use the space well, though there is a fair bit of lengthy filler movement.

Though there is a blatant lack of racial diversity, the cast of 22 has 13 women and girls. The ghosts of Christmas Past (Katrina Winters), Present (Rebecca Westberry) and Future (Jessica Finn) are all women, and strong performers at that. Though Scrooge is the weak link out of the leads, he has a good voice in spite of a lack of emotion. Of the child actors, Kyrana Shea’s West End experience sets her apart from the rest of the kids, even though the tiny, Tiny Tim (Arthur Tidbury) is absolutely adorable. Richard Lounds and Toby Joyce are also excellent as Marley and Bob Cratchett.

The lighting and costume are the most glaring signposts of the semi-professionalism of the production. There’s an Edwardian dress here, a modern sleeveless top there, and a ruffled polyester blouse straight out of the 1980’s amongst the otherwise Victorian-ish garb. All the colours of the rainbow and smart-lighting gobos are used pretty much constantly, like a kids’ school disco from the 90s. It distracts from the performances and clashes with the undertone of the story.

Though A Christmas Carol – A Musical lacks polish and professionalism, it compensates with love for the work. This is great to watch, even if the final product isn’t notable in and of itself.

 A Christmas Carol – A Musical runs through 31 December.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman, Soho Theatre

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From a lectern in the corner of the stage, Dr Marisa Carnesky fights the social taboo of periods. Resembling a character from a Tim Burton film, the PhD holder in menstrual rituals and synchronicity shares her collective research with a group of performance artists she assembled, the Menstruants. Sideshow/cabaret Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman is a wonderfully quirky manifestation of sisterhood, womanhood and the wonders of the female body.

Every month on the new moon, Dr Carnesky and the Menstruants met on a beach in Southend to develop and performed rituals around their menstrual cycle. The Menstruants come from an array of backgrounds and sexualities, and their rituals are as unique and individual as they are. Through their performances, every woman’s personal experiences with their bodies is validated and celebrated.

The performances on show are distinctive and compelling. There is some spectacle: sword swallower MisSa Blue has a customised set of swords that suit her oesophagus shape each day of her cycle. Some of the work is more reflective and otherwordly, like Nao Nagal’s use of traditional Japanese masked performance. Molly Beth Morossa provides a creepy sideshow element with her twitchy, Victorian high tea. H Plewis performs a visceral movement piece with her menstrual jelly. Rhyannon Styles simply speaks to us directly about her experience of cycles as a trans woman. Fancy Chance, with the rest of the company, performs a phenomenal circus act as a finale, after an empowering, proud sequence of feminine reclamation. All of the acts celebrate female abilities and bodies without aggression.

In between the vulnerable, performative manifestations of female cycles, Dr Carnesky talks to the audience through an array of historical and cultural mores surrounding menstruation. She particularly focuses on myth and symbolism – death and rebirth, shedding of skin and female unity. Her tone is gentle and matter-of-fact; the the content may be revolutionary but she comes across as warm and supportive.

In a show that has the potential to come across as alienating, it is instead welcoming – no one in the audience (men included) seem uncomfortable, and the stories shared on the stage are supported from the house. Instead,this diverse, inclusive variety show is a divine honouring of the feminine mystery and a reclamation of one of the features that defines women, and a showcase of some excellent live artists.

Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman runs through 7 January.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.