The Mutant Man, Space Arts Centre

315_The Mutant Man @ The Space. Photo by Greg Goodale

By guest reviewer Maeve Campbell

Contemporary pop culture is awash with true crime stories: NPR’s Serial, HBO’s The Jinx and Netflix’s Making of a Murder are just a few titles that have recently gripped public imagination. It is therefore not surprising that two plays about the life of Harry Crawford, born Eugenia Falleni in 1875, have been dramatised in the last few years. The Trouble with Harry by Lachlan Philpot played in Melbourne in 2014 and now Christopher Bryant’s The Mutant Man comes to the Space Arts Centre.
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Chinglish, Park Theatre

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Since the Print Room came under fire for whitewashing a Howard Barker play set in China earlier this year, three notable productions featuring East Asian actors graced UK stages. At different venues and produced by different companies, they were too close in time to the Print Room’s racism and to each other to be a deliberate, unified challenge. Instead, they optimistically indicate a sea change in on-stage visibility of East Asian actors. Perhaps they will no longer be relegated to silent maids, martial artists and geeky mathematicians; instead they will take on leading roles that showcase the diverse talent of British theatre.

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Escape the Scaffold, Theatre 503

Escape the Scaffold

Grace and Marcus are a picture perfect, upper-middle class married couple, even with their opposing politics. They own their own home by their late 20s, she’s an artist and writer, and he works for the government. Nothing is as it seems on the surface, though. When radical old friend Aaron turns up much to Grace’s delight and Marcus’ resentment, the threesome’s complicated history stemming their student days is gradually relived over dinner. A series of fragmented, vague flashbacks interspersed with a confused present muddies truth, lies and allusions to a violent, dystopian world outside the tidy, suburban house – but there is a pronounced lack of overriding purpose to the messy story. 

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Big Guns, Yard Theatre

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Do social media and violence against women go hand in hand? Are we all rendered voyeurs or exhibitionists by the internet? Is the web the downfall of society? Nina Segal’s two-hander Big Guns suggests that the answer to these big questions is a resounding “yes”. The relentless delivery of violent imagery doesn’t tell us anything new about the modern world, but in its red-soaked telling, Segal forces us to take a look at ourselves and decreasing sensitivity to the horrors around us.

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Dark Vanilla Jungle, Theatre N16

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Andrea isn’t very well. In solitary confinement at some sort of secure facility, she has no one to talk to other than those who briefly visit and those who live in her head. It’s likely the audience is the latter, as her monologue reveals the story of a young woman unstoppably desperate to love and be loved. This desperate runs so deep that she conjures a past relationship with a vegetative amputee she encounters in passing at a hospital, and goes on to do Very Bad Things that land her in this facility.

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a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun), Royal Court

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There are loads of jokes and stereotypes about life within a heterosexual relationship – women talk too much, men don’t understand the difficulties of pregnancy, LTRs feel like a burden, and so forth. Of course each relationship has its unique aspects, but there are common elements that often make generalisations about love ring true. Writer/director debbie tucker green discards many of the trappings of character specificity to expose universal truths about love and relationships in a powerful, moving script with elemental staging that taps into common experience.

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Tamburlaine, Arcola Theatre

Stylistically revolutionary as it was when first written, Marlowe’s Tamburlaine is still a clumsy brute of a play (not unlike Shakespeare’s first tragedy, Titus Andronicus) that has plenty of challenges when it comes to its staging. But the messy and violent journey from common thief to emperor includes some extraordinary moments that appealed to wider audiences in a way that went on to shape Shakespeare and his other contemporaries. There are shadows of the Richard III, Mark Anthony and Henry VI that are yet to come, and delightful to behold in this rarely staged play. Director Ng Choon Ping trims a lot of the excess script and gives it a clean, quick pace but in doing so, the story loses rigour. In an attempt to it tidy up, the story is flattened to a relentless quest with little light and shade.

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The Fall, Acklam Village Market

Roy lies in a hospital bed suffering from depression and unable to move. When he meets little Alexandria he sees an opportunity to escape, but must first gain her trust. He concocts elaborate tales drawing on ancient myths that become increasingly vivid and violent, but captivate the seven-year-old. Accompanied by stunning animated projections and a live score, this 30-minute adaptation of Tarsem Singh’s 2006 film The Fall attempts to tell the story of an unconventional friendship and discovery of selflessness – but doesn’t manage to achieve the poignancy they aim for. 
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The Principle of Uncertainty, Draper Hall

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According to one of the theories of quantum mechanics we’re taught in The Principle of Uncertainty, we can be in multiple places at once. If only that were true. I could review way more shows than I can currently, go on holiday, live in multiple countries and hold down several jobs, all at once. It would be wonderfully productive. Dr Laura Bailey (Abi McLoughlin), the lecturer who explains the theory to us, has a simpler wish – to be able to see her daughter again.

We are Dr Bailey’s freshman class in Draper Hall, a housing estate community space in Elephant & Castle newly doubling as a performance venue run by veteran Italian polymath Stefania Bochicchio. The non-traditional space doesn’t have a lighting rig or backstage, so shows like this that defy theatrical conventions are a natural fit.

Closely resembling a lecture, this production takes time to get to its point but when it does, it breaks hearts. McLoughlin excels as the warm, enthusiastic Laura and utterly convinces as a scientist. Her gentle breakdown is a moving climax to a script as it begins to lose focus, with the attention shifting from equations and concepts to her own, personal story.

Dr Andrea Brunello’s script is science heavy, though it doesn’t matter if it’s understood or not. It takes awhile for the story to emerge from the lesson; though it doesn’t work if it’s earlier, this happens well after the question of what the performance’s point is arises. McLoughlin is fully engaging throughout even if it’s difficult to care about the content of the lecture.

The piece suits the space well, and takes a relaxed and accessible tone – a great choice for a south London council estate venue seeking to bring new audiences to theatre. An excellent performance in this a show that doesn’t feel like a show charms, educates, and provokes reflection on the important things in life.

The Principle of Uncertainty runs through 1 April 2017.

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The Bad Seed, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

L-R Rebecca Rayne as Rhoda, Jessica Hawksley as Monica and Beth Eyre as Christine © David Monteith-Hodge

Rhoda is the picture-perfect 1950s American child. Obedient, clever and helpful, she is a dream for any parent. But after the death of a classmate who won the penmanship medal Rhoda coveted, mum Christine’s investigations into past “accident” uncover a dark secret from her own childhood that means Rhoda isn’t all that seems. The revelation ends in tragedy with serious implications for Rhoda’s future.

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