Words Words Words, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Alex Dowding

Grief is a funny and very human experience, and we all inevitably go through it in one way or another. Writer and performer Lowri Amies here examines her grief around the death of loved ones by diving headfirst into another love – that of Shakespeare.

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Medea Electronica, Ovalhouse

by guest critic Maeve Campbell

Two months in, and already ‘gaslighting’ appears to be the word of the year. Both Trump and Weinstein, who are often cast as toxically masculine villains in the press, have been accused of implementing such misdirection and manipulation toward their female accusers.

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Thebes Land, Arcola Theatre

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A playwright wants to write a play about patricide, but with an actual criminal onstage instead of an actor. Initial research leads him to a young man called Martin Santos, serving consecutive life sentences in Belmarsh for killing his father. As weeks pass and the two men get to know each other, stereotypes and expectations are upended in this moving story of masculinity, violence and theatre.

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The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse

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Within 50 years of Shakespeare’s death, playwriting was changing quickly. Less flowery language and more powerful female characters are prominent in James Shirley’s rarely-staged The Cardinal, written in 1641. The plot is more streamlined, but some of the outdoor playhouse performance conventions linger along with the grandness of the king’s court. The story proudly flaunts influence from earlier revenge tragedies and is no less bloody, but easier to follow than some of those on stage a few decades or so earlier. In Southwark Playhouse’s smaller space with historical costumes, Justin Audibert’s production evokes the intimate atmosphere of indoor playhouses that were beginning to take over towards the end of Shakespeare’s career.

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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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Acorn, Courtyard Theatre

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Persephone and Eurydice’s myths are defined by men. What happens when these men are removed and the characters plunged into a modern dreamscape? Maud Dromgoole’s Acorn brings these women and their fates together in a world of fragmented narratives and moments of biting wit, but the worlds that Dromgoole weaves together are so disconnected from each other in this cerebral play that it interferes with its immediacy.

Rather than nurturing plants, this Persephone looks after people – she is a doctor, but one that struggles to connect with her patients. Her opening monologue justifying her disdain for patients’ personal lives is equally hilarious and disturbing, the best scene in the play. Deli Segal brings a simple humanity to this cold character, making her quirky and likeable despite an autistic-like inability to understand others. Lucy Pickles’ Eurydice is a sweet contrast, alternating between a blushing bride and mental health hospital patient. Pickles is no less of a performer, but Persephone has the more dynamic and well-written character.

Dromgoole employs a range of styles, arguably too many for an hour long script. Though this strengthens the ability to relate to the story within individual scenes, the overall effect is one of indecision. An unrelated, recorded dialogue between two men fills transitions unnecessarily and doesn’t link to the women’s stories, then overlapping speech cause dialogue to be missed.

Phil Lindley’s design is simple and precise, allowing for detail and layers to emerge through Jai Morjaria’s lighting and Tom Pearson’s underused projections. The design concepts are most excellently married and add polish to a script that feels under-developed.

Acorn certainly deserves to extending and refining – the characters are excellent, as are the foundations of the stories seen here. Dromgoole uses language well and is clearly confident experimenting with form, style and classical influence, but reinvention with the goal of creating a modern myth doesn’t quite reach the enduring scale of the original material.

Acorn runs through 29 October.

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