Catch Me, Underbelly Southbank

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by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

The Underbelly Festival Southbank is like a mini Edinburgh Festival where visitors cocoon between pop up bars, fake grass, fairy lights and giant flowerpots have a sense of exclusivity, as they wonder through to enjoy the bars as much as the shows. This vibe will stay all summer and I will no doubt be returning to sip Pimm’s in the sun whether I have show tickets or not. But having seen both currently billed shows twice now, in Edinburgh and London, their quality, popularity and longevity cannot be argued.

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Manwatching, Royal Court

An anonymous woman frankly monologues about taboo sexual fantasies, abortion, orgasms and what turns her on. It’s honest, personal and as a fellow woman, easy to relate to. But rather than a woman performing the text, Funmbi Omotayo is given the script onstage having never read it before. The experiment to explore the effects of a man delivering a woman’s words on female sexuality has good intentions, but it doesn’t work. Most of the content is common female experience, and there is no primary narrative thread. The reading is often clumsy and flat and with little to look at, the piece lacks much of a dynamic.

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Coulrophobia, Greenwich Theatre

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by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

Pickled Image Theatre work with John Nicholson to produce and write Coulrophobia, which has been touring on and off for seven months. Coulrophobia – Two Clowns Trapped In A Cardboard World is performed by Dik Downey (company director) and Adam Blake. The tragic twosome pull out a series of cardboard puppets as they frolic about a set full, but not quite full enough, of cardboard boxes.

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Pete ‘n’ Keely, Tristan Bates Theatre

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by guest critic Alistair Wilkinson

The spectators are cast as the TV studio audience; a flashing sign above our head encourages us to applaud. Unfortunately there isn’t much to celebrate in this production set around two-out-of date performers trying to re-launch their career. The initial impression of the set is one of excitement and exuberance, but Emily Bestow’s design leaves the stage cluttered and incredibly busy. The actors must awkwardly navigate their way through whilst juggling a quick costume change, and avoiding being hit by a colourful disc of some sort. It’s a shame you can’t see the band through this disorientating mess.

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Twelfth Night, Blue Elephant Theatre

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What with the prominent use of music in Twelfth Night, an actor-muso production is certainly a reasonable concept. Original Impact also sets the play in modern-day summertime, playing up the drunken frivolity at the forefront of the story. The recontextualisation largely works, though combined with some brutal editing, it glosses over the more sombre themes of grief and displacement. The cast demonstrate a range of ability with verse and performance skills, and there are some signs that the director isn’t familiar with Shakespeare. It’s not a terrible production by any means, but some minor adjustments would lend it a more professional feel.

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The Poetry of Exile, White Bear

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You can be who you want to be, right? Rob, a driving instructor in modern day Romford, believes himself to be an 8th century Chinese poet from the Tang Dynasty. When he finally chooses to live the sequestered life of a poet out on the marshes in a wooden hut, it has huge repercussions on his family and friends. The whole thing’s silly – sure, you can choose a career, or where you live, but contrary to what Rachel Dolezal and desperate sci-fi fans may think, we cannot chose our race or the century we live in.

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Chinglish, Park Theatre

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Since the Print Room came under fire for whitewashing a Howard Barker play set in China earlier this year, three notable productions featuring East Asian actors graced UK stages. At different venues and produced by different companies, they were too close in time to the Print Room’s racism and to each other to be a deliberate, unified challenge. Instead, they optimistically indicate a sea change in on-stage visibility of East Asian actors. Perhaps they will no longer be relegated to silent maids, martial artists and geeky mathematicians; instead they will take on leading roles that showcase the diverse talent of British theatre.

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