Romeo and Juliet, Greenwich Theatre

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A self-described modern rep company, Merely Theatre is addressing Shakespeare’s  gender problem with 50/50 casting. Five male/female pairs each learn a set of characters in two plays, then on the night it’s decided who will perform. The result is a focus on clear storytelling rather than unimportant details such as the appearance or gender if individual characters. It’s a great device, and partnered with simple staging and a pace that doesn’t hang about, artistic director Scott Ellis has created a distinctive style of performance honouring the historical aesthetics of travelling players, though there’s a lack of nuance dissatisfying to modern audiences.

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101, Theatre N16

101, Theatre N16 (1)

By an anonymous guest critic

Interactive theatre is hard work. Horror theatre is also palpably difficult to get right. In this case, the combination of the two proves too much for this able company of actors. Oneohone – a company specialising in interactive pieces – showcase a series of six shows, and I can only imagine that the other pieces were more successful than the piece that I see, which was at times a stilted, awkward affair.

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Impromptu Shakespeare, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Though there was likely to have been a level of improvisation in Shakespeare, Impromptu Shakespeare creates a whole new, short play every performance inspired by Shakespeare’s style and language. Though quality will vary from show to show, it remains an impressive display of skill in long form improvisation. This is obviously not a polished performance of a play or a script worthy of development, but the source material is evident and consistent comedy ensure plenty of laughs.

To compile a suitable stimulus on which to ground their piece, each audience member is given ping pong balls with thematic words on them. From the barrage of balls that are soon tossed around the room, several are chosen and written down. An audience member provides his/her name and a location, and off they go.

Today, the English are preparing for war against the Welsh and Cornish. King Matthew of England’s beautiful daughter (played by a man) wants to fight the forces of the Welsh bishop, but the Celtic nations are strong and brutal. Who will win? Will the single bishop find a companion? Will the princess be allowed to fight? The play becomes a rough draft of an unpublished Shakespeare history play that is more talk that action, but still delightfully funny.

The main issue with this format is sustaining any sort pace as the performers think on their feet and deliver lines they make up on the spot. There may be a format that the company follows to ensure some sort of story develops, but there are inevitable loose ends and undeveloped subplots.

Even with a slow pace and a story that doesn’t quite live up to the quality of Shakespeare’s writing, laughs are plentiful in this entertaining display of skill.

Impromptu Shakespeare runs through 28th August.

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.

The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Gavin Plimsole is a good enough guy. A bit geeky and nervous but well-meaning, maybe even a bit endearing if you like that sort of thing. After he receives a life-altering diagnosis from the cardiologist and realises his days are numbered, the audience (who have all strapped into heart monitors before the show begins), get to decide his fate. Part choose-your-own adventure, part poignant tale of grief morning people and times long lost, The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole is a messy but touching reminder to make the most of every moment.

An ever-present projection of the audience members heartbeats overlays three energetic performers and a changing landscape of cardboard boxes. Gavin’s the sort that stores his life in tattered boxes labelled with masking tape, and these boxes now contain relics from his life. They aren’t particularly interesting, but a garden shed with a wonderful contraption that releases a large marble down a slide and into a box every 500 collective heartbeats, is ramshackle but dynamic. It cleverly represents our perpetual approach towards death with a drawn out clattering and eventual silence – a dying person’s last breaths.

Gavin monologues most of his thoughts; there are some interruptions by spunky, supporting actors that help break up the speeches but more of these would be welcome. A wiry (literally, as in made of wires) puppet makes one appearance and is similarly underused – a remarkable creature! The structure is understandable chaos that mirrors the the first couple of days after devastating news, though clearer transitions and a distinct style will help make sense of this emotional journey.

The use of the heart monitors and audience interaction unites the audience and performers, creating intimacy and empathy. It’s a sad story that manages to foster hope instead of gloom, and within the clutter there’s a lot of heart.

The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole runs through 29th August.

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.

One Under, Vault Festival

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Amy Fleming’s dad committed suicide when she was four years old. Fleming struggles with mood swings and wonders if she’s “mental,” like her dad. Luckily, she studied Molecular Medicine before becoming an actor so she understands how genetics dictates our characteristics. She also knows that talking about our problems and developing positive habits helps us overcome them. Combining her science and performance backgrounds, Fleming’s One Under is part conversational lecture, part interactive game. She relies on narration, humour and audience involvement to share her message, but the piece as a whole feels unfinished. It’s a nice idea, but it lacks theatricality and detail.

There’s no character, just Fleming and her generally cheerful honesty. She relaxes the audience straight away and easily facilitates discussion. After a frank introduction about her childhood and how genes are passed from parents to child; there’s some framing by her biography and a multi-round game/quiz with easily answerable mental health questions. These two elements aren’t solidly connected to each other, and the piece’s message isn’t spelled out until the very end. Structurally, it’s weak. By that point though, the message is less interesting that the journey we took to get there and the camaraderie that emerges en route.

This solo show isn’t very theatrical, but it’s lovely for its warm cuddliness and playful approach to form. Fleming is clearly passionate about helping people improve their quality of life and their mental health, which is a commendable mission. Her openness and her anti-performance make me feel uncomfortable writing any sort of negative judgement – it’s such a personal piece. But at an hour long, glossing over parts of her past with some audience debate over quiz questions about how to approach mental health issues at work, there’s a noticeable lack of depth.

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.

Shifter, Crick Crack Club at Soho Theatre

Going to a Crick Crack Club storytelling event is a bit like joining a private members’ club. This club doesn’t have strict entry criteria, nor is it cold and exclusive – quite the opposite. A welcoming spirit of community and the use of ritual enhance Jan Blake’s and TUUP’s four globe spanning stories. The first half of the two-hour, four-story Shifter has sturdier narratives, but the tales of trickery and metamorphosis interspersed with simple call and response create a magical, engrossing evening despite a few structural shortcomings.

We begin in Scotland, where young prince Raymond on a hunting trip meets a beautiful woman in the depths of the forest. He takes her home and the two soon marry. After many years and the births of their ten children who all have some sort of foreshadowing deformity, the prince makes a surprising discovery after spying on his wife whilst she bathes one evening. After a public reveal, the myth quickly relocates to a chateau in France, where inexplicable marks on a high window ledge are made clear. The prince is very much the victim of his bride’s deceit, but their love is also held up for admiration. Told by TUUP, this story is particularly male focused, demonising the female but also giving her power. It would be an interesting experiment to see what a woman storyteller could bring to this story. The climax and denouement are rushed, but the final line satisfies. TUUP has a relaxed, magnetic presence and his delivery of this warped love story is endowed with empathy and respect.

Blake now takes us to the Gulla Islands off the coast of America, one of the first settlements by African slaves. This is a another love story, again with a man who falls in love with a powerful, shape-shifting woman. Mary is less friendly than Raymond’s wife, and the threat to hew new husband John is tangible in Blake’s telling. This unnamed tale alludes to Rumpelstiltskin and Sleeping Beauty with the prominence of a spinning wheel and mysterious nighttime happenings. The strongest of the four stories in Shifter, its madness and imminent danger give this story a thrill, heightened by the various percussive instruments TUUP uses to accompany.

After the interval, two tribal, pre-Christian tales evoke the savannahs of Africa and the prestige that comes with being a successful hunter. The morals in these stories aren’t about the fear of powerful women in the Christian West; they more broadly apply to all humanity – don’t allow yourself to lose sight of your life goals, and practice rather than magic will bring you success. This half has a more epic sense of coverage, but the narrative arcs are less familiar to Western stories. They are more rounded, with a greater sense of the world outside of the characters; this makes them initially unsatisfying, but more universal.

TUUP and Blake both have natural warmth and charisma that draws in the audience like a hug. They are energetic but not ostentatious, simply relying on the rhythms and language of their stories. Much of the pleasure from Shifter comes from their presence, though hearing these stories grants a comfortable sense of inclusiveness despite some rocky moments in the stories themselves.

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.

Jackson’s Way: The Christmas Top-Up Power Seminar!, Battersea Arts Centre

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Will Adamsdale’s standup/solo performance creation Chris Jackson is a motivational speaker and life coach, and the audience is at his seminar to learn his life changing methods. Jackson’s Way: The Christmas Top-Up Power Seminar! teaches you the importance of attempting meaningless or impossible actions, or “jactions”, in our lives that are otherwise filled with purpose. Adamsdale’s script has a clear narrative but somewhat lacking in follow through – we never really learn precisely WHY we should be filling our time with jactions, but the character’s detailed biography and emotional journey through the Christmas story is satisfyingly seasonal.

Just so you know, jactions have levels, can be compounded and done in groups or individually. You know you’ve succeeded when you have a mild feeling of nausea but manage to Push Through It (PTI). Some of Jackson’s most famous jactions include trying to move the floor, preventing a thrown towel from hitting the ground, and making your hand be in two places at once. The absurdity and existentialism are wonderfully funny, as is the conviction with which Adamsdale gets the audience to attempt jactions.

The autobiographical storyline and the use of projections add to the theatricality of the piece, as does Adamsdale’s immersion in the character he created and his sudden change of mood. Though the structure seems pre-formatted some of the content is improvised and there’s loads of audience interaction.

The ending is rushed but generates plenty of laughs with the character’s narcissism and has a degree of resolution. A bit more time on end and clearer goals for the seminar premise would give this already polished piece of performance more finesse, but it definitely isn’t lacking in humour that functions on multiple levels.

Adamsdale is clearly a skilled, charismatic (and sweaty!) performer with an innate sense of comedy and stage presence, as it should be for such a seasoned performer. Though English, his American accent is flawless. Running for over ten years now, it’s no wonder that Jackson’s Way has staying power in the performance and comedy circuits, and Jackson’s Way: The Christmas Top-Up Power Seminar! is a great variation on usual holiday theatre offerings and a reminder to enjoy the frivolity of Christmas rather than stressing out over its logistics.


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