A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Gynaecologic Oncology Unit At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Of New York City, Finborough Theatre

Image result for finborough, A Funny thing happened On the Way to the Gynaecologic Oncology Unit At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Of New York City

by Amy Toledano

Although this show has an incredibly long title, it is the only thing about it that feels drawn out. This comedy about a cancer ward in New York city is a touching tale of unlikely friendship and the broken relationships and the ways in which we forgive in the face of tragedy.

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Finishing the Picture, Finborough Theatre

by an anonymous guest critic

An insight into the stark realities of the film industry, the Finborough Theatre’s production of Finishing the Picture is a perfect mix of grit and comedy. Loosely based on Arthur Miller’s then-wife Marilyn Monroe’s experience filming The Misfits  in 1961, this is the play’s first European premiere and is harrowingly apt in a era of #MeToo allegations.

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Jam, Finborough Theatre

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by guest critic Simona Negretto

There is always something unsettling and creepy about our memories of school. Almost everyone had “that” teacher who tends to reappear as a projection of our fears during stormy nights all through our life. But on those nights, teachers might find students in their nightmares too.

Matt Parvin’s claustrophobic play, Jam, shows how it is when those incubi become real. In a countryside school on a Thursday evening, Bella’s plans to leave her classroom are changed by the arrival of Kane, an ex-pupil with ADHD who haunted her past and forced her to rebuild her life elsewhere. He comes seeking confrontation, and old wounds, never quite healed, are reopened.

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The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Finborough Theatre

trackers

In the first part of Tony Harrison’s The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Victorian archaeologist Grenfell struts and frets around a group of silent Egyptians sifting through scraps of papyrus. He maniacally monologues on his quest to find Sophocles’ lost plays and works himself into such a frenzy that he begins to hallucinate. This triggers an inexplicable leap to ancient Greece where a satyr play is acted out and cloth phalluses abound, then another transition to a modern day street populated by homeless men.

Though there is some thematic consistency, the three stories are otherwise unrelated by plot and style. What initially appears to be a play-within-a-play turns out to be a disjointed and disappointing triptych, much like the fragments of papyrus that litter the stage.

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Maggie and Pierre, Finborough Theatre

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It’s easy to see why Justin Trudeau is one of the darlings of world politics these days. This charming former teacher, actor and advocate, turning to politics after his father’s death, identifies as a feminist, wants to legalise marijuana, is pro-choice, gay friendly and committed to the rights of the First Nations and other minorities. Canada’s liberal prime minister attracts groups of screaming fans wherever he goes both nationally and internationally, like any pop star. But where did these attributes come from?

His parents. Maggie and Pierre Trudeau, who met whilst holidaying in Tahiti in the ‘60s when she was a mere 18 years old, were THE Canadian celebrity couple of the 1970s. Pierre was, like his son after him, the prime minister of Canada. Their relationship was flawed, though. Maggie, young, free-spirited and bipolar, soon felt trapped by family life as her intellectual husband busied himself with work. The press’s constant presence also took its toll on their relationship, which the public then poured over in microscopic detail. In 1979, Linda Griffiths’ and Paul Thompson’s Maggie and Pierre premiers, a solo performance tribute to this enigmatic couple. It runs off and on for many subsequent years, a testament to the pair’s appeal.

The script feels quite contemporary, but other than for the purpose of historical documentary, its purpose isn’t clear all these years later. Though the two meet, fall in love and navigate their relationship, life in the spotlight, and the press, there’s no overriding message. It’s unclear why this story needs to be told. It’s a solid narrative over many years with moving insight into these historical figures, but the social and political commentary are limited to brief reflection on their relationship with the press. Perhaps this play would be more satisfying to Canadians or those that already know of the Trudeaus, but for audiences that have never before heard of this couple, there is little impact. It reads like an autobiography. Outstandingly performed by Kelly Burke and worth seeing for her intricate work alone, there’s the feeling that without her, the play would be disappointing.

Burke plays Pierre, Maggie and journalist Henry whose career has hinged on his reporting of their every move. Even though director Eduard Lewis incorporates numerous costume changes to signify a character change, Burke’s physical and vocal mannerisms completely transform into each respective character. It’s a wholly compelling process, a masterclass in performance. Her energy and commitment never falters and her presence is magnetic.

Designer Sarah Booth’s set is simple, but a confusing mix of abstract and functional elements. A huge, bright red quilt with Pierre’s slogan takes up half the stage and is only referred to once, near the end. Its visual dominance is impossible to ignore but it has hardly any bearing on the story. However, Booth’s creation of a bed that’s revealed from a nondescript cupboard is a great device. Philip Matejtschuk’s composition and sound design adds further depth, emotion and context that the set avoids, giving the show a more rounded, polished feel.

As a documentary artefact, Maggie and Pierre is no doubt a learning experience. The couple’s history is an interesting one and the love story is universally relatable. Kelly Burke’s performance is a wondrous thing to experience though, and more than redeems any of the production’s inadequacies.

Maggie and Pierre runs through 5 July.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Schism, Finborough Theatre

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Chicago, 1998. Harrison and Katherine are both struggling. Harrison’s wife recently left him and he gave up a challenging career choice for a safer one as a Math teacher. Fourteen-year-old Katherine’s school cannot see past her cerebral palsy, so she’s not allowed to take “normal” classes. Schism begins when both characters reach breaking point: Harrison is mid-suicide attempt when Katherine breaks into his home to appeal for his help to move into his Math class. This initial meeting spawns a twenty-year long relationship between the two, but not a healthy one. Harrison constantly tries to manipulate and control Katherine, who fights for her independence with progressively underhanded methods. Athena Stevens’ script choppily covers the huge time period in sections, addressing several important issues: autonomy within relationships, abuse, life/work balance, failure and aspiration. A play featuring disability that pushes other topics to the forefront, Schism needs more fleshing out but its messages are loud and clear.

Twenty years is a lot of material to fit into a play and at just over an hour, a lot of the plot is left out. There are about four years between each scene, nicely signposted by a current affairs talk radio show, but pivotal transitions are missing. How does their romantic relationship eventually come about? What are the immediate consequences of his awful behaviour? How does her career develop? How did he manage to keep his job after Katherine, in her final year of high school, hang out at his home regularly? These are unanswered, but easily could be by the addition of more scenes. This wouldn’t effect the episodic nature of the script, but would make the story more satisfying. Despite the clunky narrative arc, Stevens’ dialogue still manages to crackle and easily creates tension. There are some great one-liners that spark belly laughs, and moments that are equally horrifying. As set pieces, the scenes are excellent pieces of writing.

Stevens also plays Katherine and displays a clear sense of ownership over the role. Whether or not there are elements of Katherine in her own life, Stevens performance is emotionally genuine and wholly committed. Tim Beckmann gives a nuanced Harrison who transitions from teacher to lover easily, and maintains an undercurrent of desperation. Alex Marker’s domestic design with the ever-present huge, architectural drawings peeking through the windows is a good reflection of the passion that drives both characters, and director Alex Sims displays a good instinct for portraying the journey of a relationship.

Disability issues are ever present and dictate many of Katherine’s choices, but Schism isn’t about her overcoming adversity. It’s part of who she is, but she has other, more pressing problems – university admissions, bidding for work, whether or not to start a family, and civilian objection to her building projects. Harrison does as well, but they are more psychological and harder to resolve. His inability to cope with Katherine’s success in the field where he failed, his inability to have children with his ex-wife and his inability to let Katherine be an independent woman slowly devour him. It’s compelling to witness. In fact, Schism makes more of a statement about feminism within heterosexual relationships than it does about disability awareness, which is hugely refreshing and shows great progress in theatre equality – Katherine’s disability is a part of her, but only a small one compared to her aspirations.

Schism is a provocative relationship drama that certainly resonates despite the holes in the story. This dysfunctional couple can be both delightful and painful to watch, much like anyone in a modern relationship dealing with the other’s baggage. With some further development, Stevens’ play could pack an even heavier punch.

Schism ran through 14 May.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Weald, Finborough Theatre

As picturesque as agrarian life may be with it’s rustic farmhouses, sweeping land and livestock, it is not an easy one for older and younger generations who just want to make a decent living. Faded and weather worn, Sam looks after his horses as he’s done his whole life; the younger Jim is all bouncy, boyish banter. The two clearly have much affection for each other in this emotive story of a tragic hero’s fall. But Daniel Foxsmith’s Weald, though full of poetry, passion and the ability to find the audience’s raw nerves, at just over an hour it sells itself short and lacks the sweat and earthiness of farm labour.

Sam (David Crellin) and Jim (Dan Parr) spend most of their time in a barn surrounded by riding tack and looking after horses. Though everything seems well, dramatic revelations are eventually confessed, bringing fiery conflict between the two. Crellin and Parr’s performances are exemplary, with emotional journeys that are the kind actors dream of. They both relish Foxsmith’s rich language and have a wonderfully watchable presence. Their character journeys feel rushed, though; this is wholly down to the script. It’s too short to justify Sam’s final, sudden deterioration that harks of Shakespeare’s Henry V should he have failed at Agincourt.

Bryony Shanahan’s direction taps into the poetic and powerful heart of the script that addresses coming to terms with personal failure, life choices and platonic male relationships that span decades. Her regular use of the audience space shows this is a story that won’t be contained. Though a masculine play, it’s still accessible to female audience members what with the themes that transcend gender. As a failed actor having to adapt to a new and totally unplanned for life, Sam’s struggles particularly resonate and left me feeling exposed and vulnerable, but the grit endemic to farming is glaringly absent. Linguistically heady, Weald lacks a visceral-ness. Even Sam’s final actions when faced with his own ruin are stylised, distancing the audience from the characters’ emotional life.

This is still a beautiful play with fine performances and painfully relevant to present day economic uncertainty, but it’s a sanitised version of real life. Though Sam and Jim mock the wealthy city family that bought the farm house, covering it in solar panels and driving a spotless Range Rover, their daily routine as depicted in the script bears more resemblance to the unseen city man with his shiny wellies than the true life of yard workers.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.