Liza’s Back (is broken), Underbelly

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by guest critic Maeve Campbell

Liza Minnelli should have starred in the original Sound of Music, Gypsy and Les Miserables, but somehow things got in her way. That’s Trevor Ashley’s vision, and he is giving her some of those classic Broadway moments in this hour and a half show. Direct from rehab, Ashley’s Liza is suitably glittery, lispy and pant-suited. This is not a subtle impersonation, but the receptive London audience certainly don’t want that.

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Identity Crisis, Ovalhouse

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Phina Oruche has had an extraordinary career. Growing up in Liverpool to Nigerian parents and desperately wanting to see more of the world, she let her best friend Amy talk her into doing a modelling photoshoot as a teenager. Soon she found herself living and working in London, then New York and LA. Eventually tiring of the high fashion world and feeling the pull of her home, she moved back to the UK where he career led her firmly into the film and telly world. Now a mum and conflicted about the cultural pushing and pulling on her life, she examines who she really is the self-penned Identity Crisis. The punchy tapestry of characters and experiences has messy and confusing moments and no clear resolution or story, but it’s brimming with heart and life.

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Flights of Fancy, Soho Theatre

Fancy Chance was born in Korea, abandoned as an infant, adopted by a conservative American family, then moved to London. After working as a table dancer and then in a peep show in Seattle, she moved into burlesque, drag, cabaret, live art and circus. Her CV that’s more varied than her cultural make-up, Fancy’s latest endeavour is her first solo performance, Flights of Fancy. Drawing on current politics, cultural clashes and expectations, and her performance history, the show is a collection of sketches that create a quirky autobiography of sorts. Endearing and fun with a biting finale, the piece’s through-line is woolly with loose connections between individual moments.

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The Kid Stays in the Picture, Royal Court

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By guest critic Willa O’Brian

The American dream is a tantalising thing. Even the grubbiest kid from New York, the son of a nobody dentist, can become a film star and producer. This is Robert Evans’ story, the man responsible for pictures like ‘The Godfather’. Complicité’s Simon McBurney adapted the show from Evans’ autobiography, which paints a picture from a better time: when movies were pictures and hard boiled men tacked “see?” on the ends of sentences wreathed in cigarette smoke. It is visually sumptuous and the cast of eight are a constantly churning ensemble that whip the story into a froth and delivery a sensory overload of American tropes and history and multi-media tricks. Given the subject matter, the desire to incorporate all of these elements makes sense.

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My World Has Exploded a Little Bit, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Michael Davis

My World Has Exploded a Little Bit is not your average show at the Vaults (or anywhere else for that matter). Developed in collaboration with director/dramaturg Donnacadh O’Briain, My World Has Exploded a Little Bit is Bella Heesom’s response to her parents’ deaths occurring within a few years of each other. That’s devastating at the best of times. For it to happen during your 20s will have a profound effect on one’s relationships and worldview.

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Politic Man, Ivy House

What with growing up outside of the UK, my knowledge of British history is quite patchy. I can tell you a lot about the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras when Shakespeare was alive, but outside of these time periods, I know little. I quite like social history, so learning about new-to-me historical figures through theatre is an event of joyous discovery. What with my leftie sentiments currently battered, encountering someone from the past committed to social justice and equality adds to the excitement even if the play has its shortcomings.

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Interview: Isley Lynn on Skin a Cat

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The upcoming opening of new venue The Bunker has certainly generated plenty of buzz, but what has excited me most about their debut season is that Rive Productions is bringing back Isley Lynn’s Skin a Cat for a three-week run. Hugely deserving winner of Vault Festival’s Pick of the Year, Skin a Cat is the coming-of-age story of Alana, a young woman who, like most young people, just wants to lose her virginity – but there’s something in the way. I spoke with writer Isley Lynn about the importance of Alana’s story, why stories like hers need to be told and how Lynn is working for more diversity in British theatre.

TPTTUK: Why does Alana’s story need telling?

IL: I’ve always been most interested in telling stories I haven’t heard before. I get so bored and frustrated when I see a show that’s beautifully produced/designed/directed/written/performed but tells me nothing I didn’t already know, or shows me nothing I haven’t seen so many times over. The bar really is so low for new stories – stories about differently abled people, women-centred stories, unconventional stories of anyone non-white, I could go on. Stories that give us new perspective are so important and exciting that I want to spend my time telling them. And the stories about sex – especially first sex – never matched up with my own experiences, so I figured I should tell mine. It really was as simple as that, but that’s also why it’s important.

TPTTUK: You use several dramatic forms and styles in Skin a Cat. Tell me a bit about these choices and the reasons behind them.

IL: To be honest, the play was so easy to write that it came out without too much thought. The stylistic qualities were organic to the material – and I had plenty of lived material to work with! I felt the direct address was important because it allows Alana to be honest and open with the audience in a way she isn’t able to be with the characters onstage with her. In a play about the pressures of how others see you and what effort it is to please, it felt crucial to keep this [play focused on] her story, her testimony, her voice.

So much of the action happens mid-coitus, and I had no idea how to put sex on stage. All credit to our wickedly brilliant director Blythe Stewart for its staging (this was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had in rehearsals, and I’m still impressed with how she managed to create a representational, physical language without resorting to silly hip thrusts).

TPTTUK: What would you like audiences to take away from Skin a Cat?

IL: We only had six performances at the Vault Festival, but after every one I had someone approach me and share their own embarrassing story, or their own experience of sexual shame or difference. That’s exactly the reaction I hope for at the Bunker – I want people to be able to see themselves in Alana’s story, and feel emboldened to talk about their experiences with strangers and friends and loved ones, because that’s the only way we can start to realise how we all “fall short” of the expectations placed on us – and not just with sex, but in so many other areas of our lives – and how unimportant and unhealthy those expectations can be.

TPTTUK: What are the biggest issues in the theatre industry today? Is your work combating them?

IL: I hope I am – I’m trying to. So many of the issues in our industry have their roots in the lack of representation. I’ve already talked about how important it is to have a diversity of stories and that’s a big part of it, but the responsibility for that is at the feet of everyone, not just writers – It’s important to create opportunities for underrepresented people on the stage, but it’s worthless if those individuals are not in a position to take opportunities available to them because they can’t afford to work for low or no pay, for example, or if they couldn’t afford the outrageous drama school audition [fee] in the first place. I have no idea how to fix that with unpaid work being the foundation for any career (certainly mine) and so much the norm.

Often, only people with strong financial support behind them can take full advantage of what’s out there. There are great one-off schemes, and great venues doing their part (like the Hope Theatre with their Equity house agreement on pay), but until the entire industry is a viable career option [for anyone], we won’t have a community that reflects the world we live in, and that’s the primary job of the arts.

TPTTUK: Isley Lynn fans are dying to know: what’s coming up next?

IL: I’ve been working with one of my absolute favourite actors on a one woman show that, if all goes well, should have a life at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe and hopefully beyond. It’s about a English-Egyptian woman who takes up pole dancing when her husband leaves her for the revolution in Cairo. It’s going to be a unique perspective on the battle over women’s bodies and what that means when you have to navigate two very different worlds, when you’re not fully on one side or the other.

Skin a Cat runs 12 October – 5 November.

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