The Pulverised, Arcola Theatre

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Does anyone really win under capitalism? Alexandra Badea’s The Pulverised doesn’t think so. Even though those near the top of the pyramid living jetsetting lifestyles and rolling in cash might live comfortable lives, they are still left feeling broken and hollow. The french play, here translated into English by Lucy Phelps, is a pacy account of four victims of globalisation on different levels of the supply chain.

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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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Guards at the Taj, Bush Theatre

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Humayun and Babur have known each other since they were boys. Now the newest of emperor Shah Jahan’s imperial guards in Agra, the best friends work side-by-side on the night shift. Today is different, though. The first light of dawn will reveal the completed Taj Mahal, previously hidden from anyone other than its makers. Fit to burst with excitement, the two don’t know that the day to come will irrevocably change them as they fall prey to the giant cogs of the imperial machine.

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Worlds, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Willa O’Brian

Housed in the studio space at the Vault Festival, which exudes graffiti-chic and pulls hip, supportive and discerning audiences, Bruised Sky productions presents Worlds, written and directed by Martin Murphy. Worlds opens with a nondescript pop song of the ilk that seems intended to tug on one’s heartstrings. The kind you hear over a montage of the hero of the rom-com sadly perusing photos of his ex-girlfriend when he has an epiphany about how to win her back. Needless to say, not an auspicious start, but we discover that one of the characters, Bas is a Dublin-boy living in London making a killing at being a musician, “mostly pop, really if I’m being honest with myself.” In a world where the number of downloads rather than emotional authenticity are the barometer to success, the track overlaying the opening is a rather fitting choice.

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Wonderations, The Canvas Cafe

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Sunday evening was a night of new discoveries. The Canvas Café, just off Brick Lane, serves homemade cakes and prosecco by the glass. It also has walls you can write on and a cosy downstairs performance space. In that space was Ivy Davies and her show Wonderations, a gentle, joyful blend of spoken word, songs from her EP and questioning whether or not Mickey Mouse is actually God. Though lacking in narrative, Davies’ performance shares issues that are particularly personal: aging and her search for identity and faith. With a touch of live art about it, Wonderations is a lovely celebration of self-acceptance akin to reading Davies’ journal.

This isn’t a visual show, but a totally aural one. It could easily be listened to through headphones or with eyes closed, though her soothing melodies and rhythms could lull you to sleep – it’s that relaxing. There are some powerful sentiments in her lyrics and poetry that deserve full attention, however. As Davies struggles to find her pre-marriage and babies self in theatrical songs and rhymes, one can’t help but to relate to her frustration with finding her true identity buried under all the nonsense life throws at us. We all find ourselves wasting hours on social media focused on constructing an image, or immersing ourselves in work and forgetting to just be present in the world for lengthy periods, but Davies exhorts us to let all of it go. She’s like a life coach, but a gentle one who uses cuddles rather than shouting.

This cabaret-esque structure feels conversational, but is precisely and satisfyingly scripted. There’s no plot to speak of, but with Davies wearing the form like her own skin, it works. Her spoken word isn’t the pounding, angry sort I’m accustomed to; it’s full of flowers, sunshine, rain and claiming her own ground. Davies has an immovable strength and presence, but one that overflows with positivity. Less connected from her celebratory songs and spoken word is what feels like an internal monologue where in looking for faith, she wonders if God is actually Mickey Mouse. He’s been seen around the world at the same time, and has plenty of purchasing power. It’s a wonderfully funny, and pointed, argument, though less clear on it’s place in the show’s structure.

Ivy Davies’ Wonderations is a hard show to pin down, but it doesn’t apologise for that. I’m pretty certain that she’s confident enough to not care what anyone thinks of her work, but the themes it contains are universally human presented in an easily digestible format. An excellent event for a quiet Sunday evening, particularly with a slice of cake and a glass of prosecco.

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.

No Villain, Old Red Lion Theatre

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There’s usually good reason why renowned writers have known but unpublished early works. They hone their craft by writing, usually badly at first, and then have a major breakthrough after they have been writing for some time. Expecting this to be the case with Arthur Miller’s world premiere of the unpublished No Villain, the play proved to be surprisingly good. Miller’s autobiographical one act was written for a playwriting competition when the 20-year-old undergraduate at the University of Michigan was on the verge of leaving due to his family’s losses during the Great Depression. It was in the university’s archives that director Sean Turner found the manuscript mentioned in Miller’s memoirs, dashed off with the desperate hope of saving his Journalism degree. A theatrical and historical relic, the script isn’t a particularly polished affair but brims with youthful enthusiasm, political activism, and familial conflict that hints at the greatness to come in later works like Death of a Salesman and The Crucible.

From beginning to end, tension dominates this story set in 1936 New York City during the strikes that paralysed the garment district and bankrupted businesses barely holding on to their survival. Father Abe Simon (David Bromley) has no sympathy or understanding for the strikers or his sons’ recent discovery and devotion to the new political system taking over the East, Communism. Arnold (Adam Harley) is a thinly veiled Miller who at the beginning of the play returns from Michigan for the holidays. Refusing to help his father (David Bromley) at the shop because it would compromise his principles, older brother Ben (George Turvey) is more practical. The action largely centres around these three men, but the strain of the Depression also shows in their interactions with their mother (Nesba Crenshaw), sister Maxine (Helen Coles) and grandfather (Kenneth Jay).

Focused, emotionally endowed performances in heightened realism and moments of good dialogue generate exquisite set piece scenes, but the overall plot structure and storyline is a bit loose, and the politics are so blatant that it’s agitprop. This is not a subtle play, but it’s certainly not poorly made. The story is a microcosmic representation of Big Issues but it’s clear that this is real life replicated on stage rather than pure fiction. There’s a lot of preaching and arguing and threats, but the actors truthfully capture this almost-constant tension within the family, and these moments are plentiful. Like a baby Death of a Salesman, we see the idealism and father-son relationships that help make Miller one of the greatest dramatists of the 20th century.

Max Dorey’s set and Natalie Pryce’s costumes contribute detail and further authenticity to the production. Stylistically, this is a great example of early 20th century American theatre (but with accents from different parts of the US in one family) made popular by Clurman, Adler, Meisner and the rest of the Group Theatre in the 1920s and 30s. Turner captures this performance style well and in combination with the factual/biographical nature of the script, it feels like the audience is watching a moment of history brought to life.


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.