Eyes Closed Ears Covered, Bunker Theatre


by guest critic Liam Rees

Alex Gwyther’s Eyes Closed, Ears Covered is a slippery play that continuously raises questions. We’re immediately presented with Alyson Cummins’ concrete-grey, angular set, suggestive of a brutalist play park in a rundown housing estate. A recording of a distressed phone call to the police about a pair of young boys and a terrible act of violence adds tension. Gwyther’s script immediately has us hooked with the right amount of specific details to suggest what may have occurred whilst not to revealing too much.

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Odd Man Out, Hope Theatre


A middle-aged, gay Welshman contemplates the English class he teaches in Hong Kong. Amongst the students is Windy, the Chinese woman with whom he shares his bed. Utterly smitten with her, he refers to her as his Pocahontas. He then kisses a barbie doll with long black hair and tanned skin.

Pocahontas was a Native American woman kidnapped by the colonising English in the 1600s, forced to marry, then taken to Britain. The same woman bore her husband a child then died, aged 21, after contracting a European illness.

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Double Double Act, Unicorn Theatre


What happens when two experimental performance artists join forces with a few kids to make a kids’ show? Utterly delightful, if messy, madness. 1990s Nickelodeon is a clear influence, as are fart jokes, poo, time bending and parallel universes. An attempt at education intrudes near the end, but otherwise the script is a joyful, jokey celebration of all things silly and gross. There are moments, particularly in the beginning, that are a touch too self-serving for a show pitched to children, but there’s plenty of slapsticky fun for adults and young people alike.

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Room, Theatre Royal Stratford East


Originally a novel by Emma Donoghue that swept up the award nominations last year after being made into a film, Room is now a play. Adapted by the writer for the stage, it stays true to the original story of a young woman abducted at 19 and imprisoned as a sex slave. After two years in captivity she gives birth to her son Jack. Five years later as they celebrate his fifth birthday, all Jack has ever known is the inside of the shed. To ensure he copes, Ma’s taught him that the only things that are real are what’s inside the room. Everything outside isn’t real, and the pictures on their telly exist only in the small box. But Ma’s had enough and wants Jack to help them escape now that he’s big enough.

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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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Snow in Midsummer, Swan Theatre


In 2012, The RSC drew ire for its Orphan of Zhao casting in which there were a whole three East Asian actors. Though the production went ahead, RSC artistic director Greg Doran showed willing to listen and bring about change, meeting with Equity’s Minority Ethnic Members Committee. Now, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s modern adaptation of a Chinese ghost story with an entirely East Asian cast is on stage at the Swan. It’s commendable progress even though there’s still a long way to go in British theatre.

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Queen Lear, Edinburgh Festival Fringe


What happened to King Lear’s wife? The woman who birthed the three daughters that he loves so dearly is never mentioned in his title play. Back in the ’80s, the Women’s Theatre Group and Elaine Feinstein created Lear’s Daughters, a flawed, feminist play attempting to reason why Goneril and Regan do what they do by depicting the girls’ upbringing. Their mother is present, but ill and rarely thought upon until her death at the hands of a sex-crazed maniac. Lear and his obsession with having a son cost her her life.

Ronnie Dorsey, perhaps inspired by this version that focused on the daughters rather than their mother, puts the young queen centre stage in Queen Lear. Also a feminist perspective, this script is reflective and revealing, but slow to develop and incorporates a disconnected subplot that results in an unlikely end.

Alice Allemano is the young queen, heavily pregnant with her second child. Goneril and Regan are the daughters of his first wife, a good device that explains the sisters’ disconnect in Shakespeare’s play. Lear’s need for a son translates to her conviction that the child is a boy, but the pregnancy has not gone well. She is overdue, in constant pain, and begs her nurse and the Father overseeing her care to cut the baby from her body. Through her medicated delirium, she reveals her transition from blushing, wide-eyed bride at 16 to an abused incubator. Jane Goddard plays the nurse and Mary McCusker the priest; the trio of women have a warm, maternal chemistry and all are excellent performers.

Dorsey’s script, whilst an interesting premise, has some issues. The dialogue is overwritten and obstructions any natural tension that would arise from the situation. It also slows down narrative progression and often feels clumsy. The secondary plotline, though it has potential to develop into its own story, feels out of place and not fully integrated. The big reveal is barely acknowledged by the other characters, briefly discussed, then forgotten about in light of the queen’s health.

A thorough trimming would do the text a world of good and free up space for more action. The performances are strong and the examination of this forgotten character compelling, but one that could be executed more smoothly.

Queen Lear runs through 29th August.

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