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.

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.

Team Viking, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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How far would you go for your best mate? Are there any limits, any lines, you wouldn’t cross?

What if your best friend was dying?

What if he asked you to ensure he had a viking funeral?

James Rowland does exactly that for his best friend Tom. He grew up as part of a neighbourhood trio that stayed close well into adulthood. As children, their favourite game was to play Vikings (as in the Kirk Douglas film). When Tom is diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 25 and given only a short time to live, he calls in one final favour from James and Sarah, the other third of their childhood gang. Tom doesn’t care about logistics and legalities, and his magnetic charisma convinces Sarah and James to do this for him, and James is here to tell us the story of their friendship through life and death.

Rowland’s engaging, laddish charm makes you laugh loads, then the tiniest change in pace and inflection turns on the tears. His script approaches death and friendship with respectful levity that does not gloss over the reality of grief, but neither is it too weighty. It’s a perfectly balanced emotional journey, and Rowland’s relaxed delivery draws the audience to him and to each other.

Director Daniel Goldman chooses simple staging – Rowland is on a small, bare stage with few props and tech, and the venue’s lighting is barely existent. The piece would work well in the round to foster it’s warmth and inclusivity. It’s simple, storytelling structure would also suit the intimacy of a circle.

Team Viking is an exemplary solo storytelling piece excelling in its honesty and simplicity. It’s a powerful tribute to his friends, but it’s not insular – it’s the complete opposite, and a truly delightful, heartwarming adventure story for those who have loved and lost.

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.

Lucy, Lucy and Lucy Barfield, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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The dedication at the front of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe reads:

My Dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be, your affectionate Godfather,

C. S. Lewis.

Lucy Grace, long feeling a strong kinship with the book’s protagonist Lucy Pevensie, clung onto the belief in Narnia well into adulthood. When she was 26, the dawning realisation that she would never reach Narnia suddenly hit her. With a sense of crushing loss, she turned to her well-thumbed copy of the book to search for clues that might refresh her once-dependable escape from life’s hardships. Previously skipped pages were poured over for clues, leading to the discovery of the book’s dedication – a revelatory moment for Lucy Grace. There’s a real Lucy! Perhaps she knows more about Narnia and can help her rediscover its wonder as an adult! But who is she?

Lucy, Lucy and Lucy Barfield sweetly documents Grace’s search for the real Lucy, about whom there is little information. This quest leads her down the rabbit hole of contacting Lucy’s father’s estate, researching at the Bodleian Library and interviewing Lucy’s best friend. A research project doesn’t sound like it would make dynamic, compelling theatre, but Grace manages to do so with great success on this solo show.

Grace’s performance is excellent. She has a gleeful charisma and innate sense for storytelling that keeps the audience’s attention. Her childlike wonder at each discovery is infectious. Hints of her background and struggle come through somewhat, though the script is far from self-indulgent.The design, mostly piles of cardboard boxes, lacks the delicacy of the story even though they allude to the archives Grace trawls through searching for details about Lucy’s life.

Lucy Barfield died in 2003 from MS. There is still some mystery around her life, and some of Grace’s findings directly conflict each other. But the creative young woman who danced, wrote poetry and music who inspired one of the country’s greatest writers and academics helps Lucy Grace renew her belief. Lucy, Lucy and Lucy Barfield is a lovely little story of adventure and discovery.

Lucy, Lucy and Lucy Barfield 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.

People of the Eye, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Elizabeth has two daughters. Her youngest is “fine”. Her eldest has profound hearing loss. This diagnosis, in our able-bodied world with all its bias and privilege for those that are “normal”, is a hard one to take. Elizabeth wrestles with guilt, frustration and the never before considered world of adaptation to suit her daughter’s needs.

Theatre maker and actor Erin Siobhan Hutching grew up in a mixed D/deaf and hearing household. Collaborating with the Deaf & Hearing Ensemble, People of the Eye is her story, and those of families everywhere. It tells of parents, siblings, signing and secret languages. Projections and signing facilitates aid accessibility and support storytelling, creating a heartwarming montage of moments. The story is thin, but the message is clear: living in both the D/deaf and hearing world is a blessing.

Emily Howlett performs with Hutching as Elizabeth’s eldest. She signs as well as speaks and takes on several roles: a doctor, a sign language teacher and one of the two central characters. She and Hutching have a lovely chemistry and are generally believable as young siblings. Hutching also switches between Elizabeth and her younger daughter; these transitions are not always clear.

There is an added pedagogic element of Elizabeth taking a sign language class where the audience becomes the rest of the class. Though good fun, it is slightly forced – the story of this family is much more engaging than a lesson.

People of the Eye could certainly do with fleshing out, and its initial premise and structure are robust enough to withstand further development. The performances are engaging and they provide a lovely insight into family life with a disabled family member. The visual structure is a model for other productions seeking to increase their accessibility and can easily be applied to shows where deafness is not specific to the script. It’s a fantastic start with great potential.

People of the Eye runs through 27th 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.