James Rowland’s Songs of Friendship trilogy focuses on the equally hilarious and moving antics he got up to with his best mates Tom, Sarah and Sarah’s partner Emma over the years. These include stealing a friend’s remains and giving him a Viking funeral, and donating sperm to Sarah and Emma. This show is situated outside of that group of friends. Instead, it focuses on another mate who is far less conventional. Though Rowland’s work here is not as neat or as focused as his previous shows, his seemingly truthful delivery and comic timing are as engaging as ever.
At Ria’s first gig after moving to London to work as a musician, she is captivated by an Irish bartender, Daniel. They soon develop an intensely unhealthy, co-dependent relationship where she wants to fix him and he struggles to survive a debilitating mental illness. Using music to document their relationship, her feelings towards her absent father and living down south, this soulful gig-theatre show conveys her all-consuming experience with gentleness and a big heart.
Elif has come to a picturesque island nation as a child seeking a better life, and finds work as a shepherdess charged with minding a landowner’s flock of sheep. Though the tyrant landowner brazenly uses her power and Elif’s undocumented status to exploit her, she quietly gets on with her job and waits for the King’s administration to process her citizenship application. This simply-written fable by Sami Ibrahim depicts an old-fashioned, magical country with an immigration system that parallels Britain’s, with an aim to critique the hostile environment. Though there are some lovely individual moments, the story is slow and often stagnant, and the political commentary clumsy and heavy-handed.
Bisexual women are rarely represented in theatre, particularly in a way that doesn’t brush them off as indecisive, slutty or secretly straight or gay. Rafaella Marcus’ unnamed protagonist (played by Jessica Clark) is none of these things. The charity worker genuinely fancies and can fall in love with both women and men. The violence and biphobia she encounters is real, too. Using symbolic imagery, narration and dialogue, the fully-realised character captures the authentic complexities of living and loving as a bi woman.
Toye is 16 and ready to change the world. But first, he has an audition for a music scholarship at a private school, all his coursework, his friends always want him to hang out, and his dad is ill. He also wants to while away the time reading up on the Black British people and history that’s left out of the inadequate school curriculum. In short, he’s very busy and trapped in a racist and inflexible education system that he wants to change but also exploit to his advantage, and the pressure is starting to get to him.
The disaffected son of a clergyman, Sir Paul Dukes, ran away to Russia to work as a musician. While there, the Russian Revolution started and British intelligence recruited him to work as a secret agent. He was to smuggle prominent people and useful materials across the border to Finland, and otherwise do what spies do without getting himself killed. Reportedly a master of disguise, the so-called ‘man of a 100 faces’ is portrayed by the versatile and energetic Saul Boyer, though the story is so dense and frenetically told that it is difficult to keep track of the various subplots and characters.
One of the four winners of the Untapped Award this year, an ensemble of young actor-musicians present their take on the 1920 silent film, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Using music, movement and narration, the cast stick pretty close to the film but curse the doctor’s victims to a Sisyphean purgatory where they must tell their story over and over again. Though the company employ a visually striking aesthetic and great music, there are some creative choices that evoke the style of an A-level devised piece.
Belgian company Ontroerend Goed are fringe regulars who reliably provide innovative, provocative work that makes a refreshing change from British theatre and performance paradigms. This show is no exception. Layers of metatheatricality, direct address and a spirit of playfulness are used to consider how a performance is made, the truth and lies in storytelling, and language as a vehicle for meaning. Tight dramaturgy and constant surprise result in a consistently compelling production.
In transphobic discourse, trans people are feared and consequently monstered. In these bigots’ brains, they are positioned outside the gender binary and labeled ‘not normal’. Canadian trans nonbinary theatremaker SE Grummett (they/them) first satirises what is considered normal within traditional gender roles, then creates a simple folktale where trans people as superheroes. They uses puppetry, audience interaction and live feed video projection along with monologues to both hilarious and profound effect.
21-year-old Catriona is very good at lying. She knows she isn’t supposed to, but she just can’t help herself when a ‘not unhandsome’ American man comes into the pub where she works. Craving some exhilaration and a reprieve from her mother’s grilling about whether she is living an exciting life yet or not, Catriona takes American Man on a wild goose chase of tall tales around her small home town in Northern Ireland.