Much Ado About Nothing, Jack Studio Theatre

by Laura Kressly

Outdoor summer touring Shakespeare shows are about as British as they come. This one by Bear in the Air, apart from this short stop at the Jack, is no exception. There’s no dominant production concept, but the cast of six zip through the trimmed down script with confidence and energy. The performances are consistently excellent though some of the directorial choices mean there are issues.

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There’s No Mystery in Murder, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

by Romy Foster

Northern Corner brings humour and mischief to this brand-new musical based in the fictional town of Rothersdale. It’s a quiet town where nothing ever happens, so when a local councellor is shot, the community unravels. A once peaceful town reveals all it’s dark secrets when the blame keeps shifting to nervous suspects in an attempt to find out who the murderer is.

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This is Not a Show About Hong Kong, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

by Laura Kressly

At the start of this piece that is definitely not about Hong Kong, we are asked not to take photographs. This is because the performers, who are absolutely not from Hong Kong, could face persecutions under China’s National Security Bill if they were caught making a show about Hong Kong. But this is all hypothetical, because this physical theatre show is not about Hong Kong.

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Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

by Laura Kressly

Miss-fit besties Kathy and Stella run a true crime podcast that they hope to turn into a full time job. When their favourite author is brutally murdered after a local event, they think this is the perfect opportunity to raise their profile and get the fame they know they deserve. Though they have no murder-solving skills, they’re determined to get to the bottom of her death. The musical comedy by Jon Brittain and Matthew Floyd Jones, writers of A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad), is a hilarious caper that embraces the genre’s fans, life’s unexpected heroes and the quest to find yourself.

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Caligari, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

by Laura Kressly

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.

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Every Word Was Once an Animal, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

by Laura Kressly

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.

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No Particular Order, Theatre503

by Laura Kressly

An Optimist’s Take

Children’s TV performer Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Though horrific events drive Joel Tan’s eon-spanning play, it celebrates those who get us through the worst of times.

Four actors (Jules Chan, Pandora Colin, Pía Laborde-Noguez, and Daniel York Loh) play what feels like dozens of characters across multiple cities, nations and worlds over more than 300 years. The people we meet in each self-contained scene of the episodic script are unrelated to all the others; instead they are brought together by survivorship and hope. The cumulative effect of these people and their experiences is one where they blur into each other regardless of when and where their scenes unfold, but this doesn’t matter. It also tests the limits of each actor’s range with varying results – some characters aren’t particularly distinct. However, what resonates is that humanity keeps going because of its drive to look after each other.

Ingrid Hu’s set design is simple, but soft and timeless. White and black cloth forms a textured back wall and a pillowy, cloud-like ceiling that gently holds the cast of four. The transitions between each scene are clearly signalled with lighting and sound motifs. Their predictability is somewhat comforting because we know that despite the horrible things the characters experience in any given moment, their lives will eventually improve.

Though it would be great to have more time with some of these characters and see how their stories unfold, by the end the human race-wide perseverance serves as a reminder that we are more powerful as a collective rather than individuals during times of adversity. Though this is an intimate staging with a small cast, it is boundless in its esteem for humanity.

A Pessimist’s Reflection

An eternal truism of the human race is that we are and forever will be awful to each other. In Joel Tan’s eon-spanning play, which is essentially a collage of short scenes both on our planet and beyond, his vast collection of characters inhabits times and places where war, dictatorship and violence shape their lives.

The cast of four (Jules Chan, Pandora Colin, Pía Laborde-Noguez, and Daniel York Loh) play what feels like dozens of characters across multiple cities, nations and worlds over more than 300 years. The people we meet in each self-contained scene of the episodic script are unrelated to all the others; instead they are brought together by shared horrific circumstances. The overarching effect is one of the never-ending despair and suffering that shape the human condition. There are no meaningless platitudes about things eventually looking up or rose-tinted views of the real world; instead we are reassured that our individual pain is real, but shared. Everyone is going through it, and always will be.

Designer Ingrid Hu uses drapes of plain black and white cloth to lower the theatre’s ceiling and line its walls. The neutral colours and pillowy shapes dampen the sound and create a timeless claustrophobia from which the cast cannot escape. The stark palate evokes the good-evil binary that shapes each of these people’s existence. Militaristic sound effects underpin each transition and relentlessly propel time forward.

Though it would be great to have more time with some of these characters to see how their stories unfold, by the end of the play the relentless conflict between groups of people (and other creatures) remind us that ultimately, most of us have little to no power within society’s hierarchies. However, we must keep going despite the injustice we endure because this is what really makes us human. Though this is an intimate production with many moments of care, Tan’s play is an epic reminder that people never change and we must simply do our best to carry on.

No Particular Order runs through 18 June.

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No One, Brighton Fringe

by Diana Miranda

Invisibility’s appeal has a new angle in this show by AKIMBO physical theatre company. Loosely inspired by H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, AKIMBO gives the narrative an original twist that locates the story within the millennial scene of social media, instant messaging, pub parties and nightclubs. The story stands on its own and explores themes that move away from the questions of science and ethics of Wells’ novel. As such, AKIMBO’s No One navigates (in)visibility in the digital era and offers a tragicomic thriller that starts as a detective investigation and slowly takes on a warmer, more intimate focus on an invisible man that craves connection.

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Richard II, The Vaults

by Laura Kressly

Shakespeare depicts Richard II as an ineffective and selfish ruler with little regard for his people or country. Instead of ruling fairly, he wastes the country’s money on unnecessary wars and steals from citizens to recoup the costs. In director Annie McKenzie’s production, this results in a kingdom ridden with violence and poverty, signified by costumes little more than filthy rags, copious stage blood, and recurring fights. This concept largely works but is undermined by a slow start, unneeded movement sequences, and some inconsistent handling of the text. Though the second half dramatically improves, the first is somewhat baggy and lacking in urgency, reducing the cumulative impact of the whole.

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Dogs of Europe, Barbican

by Zahid Fayyaz

This is the UK Premiere of Alhierd Bacharevic’s epic political and fantasy thriller, by Belarus Free Theatre. The original novel is banned in Belarus and the theatre company are now based in the UK, after seeking asylum following the Belarusian authorities attacking them for their plays and politics. It originally ran in 2019 in Minsk, and then across Europe in secret venues. The Barbican show – postponed from 2020 – is on a much larger scale, which works wonderfully with the epic feel of the show. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is present in mind whilst watching the show, making it seem even more prophetic than it may have been a couple of years ago.

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