Snow White and Rose Red, Battersea Arts Centre

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Battersea Arts Centre’s family Christmas show for people aged 5 and up is far from the Disney version of Snow White. The children’s show by RashDash, creators of naked, feminist, Edinburgh hit Two Man Show, is also far from conventional kids’ theatre. Combining their woman-led, political ethos with the use of live music, the company reclaims femininity and appropriates the traditionally patriarchal adventure of fairytales in this spirited show for all ages.

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Bubble Schmeisis, Battersea Arts Centre

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Nick Cassenbaum grew up in London’s Jewish community and experienced all the cultural mores that go with it – Spurs games, dubious summer camps, trips to Israel and discovering his willy isn’t like the other boys’ at school. Like many young people as he got older, he hadn’t quite found his place in the world. Until he went with his grandfather, Papa Alan, to the Canning Town bathhouse.

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“Just let the wind untie my perfumed hair…” or, Who Is Tahirih?, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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A woman sings behind a gauzy white curtain. We cannot see her face, but in her soaring cries we hear her passion. This is Tahirih, born in what is now Iran in the early 1800’s (we don’t know her exact date of birth because authorities burned these documents after her execution). She is a poet, theologist and women’s rights activist, and she has enough followers that the country views her as a national threat to the patriarchal Islam that requires women to be veiled in public.

In the days leading up to her execution, Delia Olam plays people from Tahirih’s life, unfolding her biography, teachings and radical actions. These we see plainly, but Tahirih is always behind the curtain, playing and singing. As the revered and reviled woman is sculpted through the accounts of others whilst her face remains hidden, she becomes mythical and hugely powerful, a revolutionary who’s life is tragically cut short.

Olam’s script and performance meld into a fluid solo performance that is a fitting tribute to such a remarkable woman. Her physical and vocal distinction between the handful of characters she plays is detailed and precise. A servant, Tahirih’s father, an executioner, and a female follower are crafted in detail, and all visited by the audience who go to these people to discover more about this woman who is revolutionary, dangerous, or both. This is excellent clarification of the audience/character relationship in solo performance format – it makes sense with the play’s circumstances and embeds the audience in the action. There is none of the talking out into undefined space or invisible characters that alienates the audience and removes the character from reality, something that often occurs in solo performance. Across these characters in different places and with different relationships to Tahirih, there is still a clear, well-proportioned narrative arc building to an awful end.

The scenes themselves are well-crafted and provide a snapshot of the landscape of attitudes towards women in Iran at the time. They are simply staged and prettily enhanced with candlelight, their simple, calming beauty juxtaposes the inevitable prospect of her death. Transitions are a touch slow; some are smoothed with recorded music whereas others have silent gaps as Olam transforms in and out of Tahirih, who sings and plays between characters. The silences make for a choppy disruption, but this is a minor issue easily forgiven in view of the story’s excellent construction and execution.

To learn about such a remarkable woman through a strong show and performance feels as much of a privilege as it is an education. Olam has fantastic instinct for storytelling and character development, and this detailed show needs hardly any improvement. Do not miss it.

“Just let the wind untie my perfumed hair…” or, Who Is Tahirih? runs through 29th August.

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Rove, Battersea Arts Centre, for everything theatre

“As the audience enters, a young man with a magnificent beard is asking the violinist on stage with him if she knows “the one about…” several times. She always says yes, and then plays a brief tune. I realized after I settled that all the requests feature a man called Rover Joe involved in numerous exploits or unlikely situations…

“The structure of the performance is relaxed and loose. The subject of the story is a man called Rover Joe, Evans’ grandfather who emigrated from Ireland to Chicago. His tale is told in four sections, in between music, and talking to the audience about the importance of stories, their families, and so on…

“Armstrong’s music is excellent, as is Evans’ storytelling; though opening his eyes whilst giving us the tales would create more of a connection with the audience…

“This is certainly a unique performance: sentimental, quaint and emotionally honest. It raises some thought-provoking points on the nature of families and the tales they harbour. This is certainly a production to see for those interested in storytelling, folk music and folk tales, and quirky performances that don’t easily fit into a genre.”

Intention: ☆☆☆☆☆

Outcome: ☆☆

Star Rating: ☆☆☆ 1/2

Read the entire review on everything theatre here.