The Oresteia, Progress Theatre

66438CCA-1980-495C-B6F1-804E21F5B84F

By Louis Train

“Things evolve,” writes Rhys Lawton, director of this youth production of The Oresteia. “The same topics for examination that were needed then [in Ancient Greece] are not needed now, so instead we have to look at the parts of society that haven’t managed to evolve; the treatment of women, the questioning of authority and the fear of the other.”

Continue reading

Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), Royal Court

https://i1.wp.com/www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/servlet/file/store5/item374788/version1/fileservice770/374788_770_preview.jpg

American, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks doesn’t shy away from epic projects. Six years ago, she wrote a play a day to create 365 Days/365 Plays, then went on to write the nine-part Father Comes Home From the Wars. Parts one, two and three centre around Hero, a strapping young slave on a remote Texan farm. Spanning the Civil War, this epic story with influence from Greek myths and contemporary socio-political issues in Parks’ distinctive, poetic language takes its time to develop and has some discordant stylistic choices, but its narrative and historical interpretation is both compelling and important.

Each of the three parts has moments of profound brilliance and devastation, but Parks is in no rush to tell her story. The dialogue-driven script takes its time, meandering around a complex landscape of slavery, loyalty and race within this particular slave family. Though set in war time, there is little action – broader issues drive the conversation more so than current events. This is more of a kitchen sink drama than a wartime adventure story.

Part one solely takes place on the farm as Hero debates whether or not join his master in battle. The rest of the slaves take bets and try to persuade him one way or the other, but in the back of Hero’s mind is a promise from the Boss-Master – but is he likely to keep his end of the deal? Hero’s loyalty is split between his owner and his wife Penny, but the lure of the cast-off but smart uniform proves too much. Though little happens, the domesticity of part one has some of the tension that precedes a huge decision. Seeing a tall, strapping black man in the prime of his life wearing Confederate greys is most unsettling; this paired with the ingrained, accepted attitude that he is the property of his owner is a potent reminder that there has been insufficient progress in America’s attempts at racial equality.

Part two, though set at a particular moment in the midst of the war, has the calm of an eye of a storm and is by far the best of the three parts. Hero and Boss-Master have captured a Yankee prisoner whilst separated from their regiment during a battle. Hero’s loyalty is tested again, this time by his prisoner upon discovery of a secret that’s hidden in plain sight and only skin deep. Racial identity, individuality and freedom intertwine in an intoxicating allure of potential for Hero, who is still doggedly loyal to his owner. The powerful ending devastates in its frank depiction of ingrained attitudes of racial inferiority and liberal frustration with this mentality.

Part three is the more mature sibling to part one. The characters are older, wiser and more world weary in the face of Southern defeat. The pre-war certainty has given way to a chance at the great unknown of freedom, and for the first time they can choose where they live – anywhere in the great, wide world, or on the farm they have known forever. Penny and Hero’s devotion is destabilised in this irrevocably changed world that is now free, but cold and dangerous – and still is for black Americans today. The morality of freedom isn’t black or white here, but the ominous, thought-provoking grey of Hero’s, (now called Ulysses) uniform.

Neil Patel’s unforgiving desert of a set doesn’t have bells and whistles, but it’s sparsity highlights the richness of Park’s language and characterisation. Steve Toussaint is the remarkable Hero, painted with delicate light and shade. The rest of the cast are excellent in their own right, though lack the development of the initially appropriately-named lead.

Parks’ script is almost completely bedded in realism (that’s occasionally heightened), though a talking pet and some contemporary costumes slightly skew reality. Both are used sparingly and without any evident justification across the three parts so their inclusion feels jarring and unnecessary. The onstage musician, though very much a separate commentator, doesn’t clash the way these choices do.

For a play set during a war and a pivotal moment of America’s history, it is oddly detached from violence and conflict. Instead, Parks’ text goes after deeper themes within this transition from slavery to freedom. Though a greater sense of danger and looming dread would add needed further tension in parts one and two, the nuance that flows through the story is undeniably exquisite.

Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) run through 22 October.

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.

Fury, Soho Theatre

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/c255500e31a395db7d5e99d0e22866efcadc2904/0_0_3907_2727/3907.jpg?w=700&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&s=24616b52e71621aa153ffabc5805fe48

Sam is a young, single mum living in a council flat in Peckham. Having gone through the care system and her boyfriend leaving her after her second son was born, she has no one. When she meets socially inept Tom, an MA student in the flatshare above her, after losing her job as a cleaner, he creates an opportunity for friendship, sex and an escape from her kids. But Sam was born a victim, and a victim she remains. In this discourse on social class, parenting and gaslighting, playwright Phoebe Eclair-Powell incorporates Greek tragedy and a commentating chorus to expose the perils of growing up with no support network.

This is one of the young writer’s first full-length plays, and she’s still finding her feet. Fury has a great concept and characters, and the use of the chorus is a fantastic touch that adds depth and structural variation, but the execution if the ideas isn’t quite there yet. Some sections of the script don’t quite fit the main thread, like her beach outing with an old friend, and others rush the narrative progression. The chorus fills in information left out of the scenes, but this sticking plaster over the gaps is still unsatisfying and overly simplistic. The relationship between Sam (Sarah Ridgeway) and Tom (Alex Austin) escalates a bit too quickly to be plausible, though some slight extending would go far to rectify this.

Ridgeway is excellent as Sam, with a nervous energy and a risk of exploding into violence at any point, making Tom’s manipulation all the more believable to social services. Austin is slimy, awkward and initially seems harmless, but quickly reveals a dark interior. Though he plays the role well, it’s a challenging one because he transforms so quickly. His unlikely behaviour after his initial awkwardness is a powerful reminder that anyone is capable of committing horrendous acts, particularly against vulnerable people. The chorus of three (Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Daniel Kendrick and Anita-Joy Uwajeh) also play additional characters, flipping between them and non-characters with ease and agility.

Director Hannah Hauer-King uses a simple set by Anna Reid to focus on the text. Her in the round staging is a great choice that adds to Sam’s rising paranoia – everyone is indeed watching her every move. The chorus uses seats set into the audience, which although it keeps them ever present, it is unclear why the audience/actor boundary is blurred. She occasionally struggles to clarify space what with the mostly bare stage, but the dialogue usually explains well enough. Hauer-King taps into Eclair-Powell’s poetry with instinctual finesse, making some moments particularly moving.

Though the ended is rather different from the Medea that the show’s marketing compares it to, there is still senseless tragedy brought on by a man’s deliberate actions against a vulnerable woman. Fury shows much potential from the emerging writer and director, and contains some vital messages about growing up poor and female that, with some small adjustments, will be heard loud and clear.

Fury runs through 30 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.

Iphigenia at Tauris, Rose Theatre

by Lidia Crisafulli

by Lidia Crisafulli

At the far edge of the Rose’s pool that preserves the remains of the original theatre, perches the temple of Diana. Blue and purple lighting reflects in the pool; waves are heard lapping at the shore. This is Iphigenia’s world where she serves as a priestess to the goddess on the island of Tauris, ruled by King Thoas. He loves Iphigenia and respects her wishes, but wants to kill the foreigners who turned up on the coast. She wants to not only save them, but escape with them.

Using rich, imagery-laden language, Goethe has adapted Euripides original tragedy, translated into English by Roy Pascal. The austere, Mediterranean set and rich sound design made this production a soothing but rich sensorial feast that compliments Goethe’s text. Unfortunately, unconnected performances and unvarying delivery from some of the cast who seem to focus more on the sound of their own voices rather than communicating their intentions makes a sleep-inducing affair.

The best work comes from Ben Hale as Iphigenia’s brother Orestes and his lifelong “friend” Pylades (Andrew Strafford-Baker). They contribute vibrant performances and excellent chemistry, a welcome respite from the indulgence presented to the audience prior to their entrance. Pylades’ comforting of Orestes as he is tortured by the furies for murdering his mother is the stuff fanfic is made of, it’s that homoerotic and genuinely lovely. Even though their behaviour is rather laddish (they came to Tauris to steal Diana’s statue from her temple), they are charming, passionate and a joy to watch. Their eventual clash with James Barnes’ Thoas is inevitable, but well contrast against Thoas’ steely reserve.

Title role Iphigenia (Suzanne Marie) is a complex character and could even be considered feminist despite the play premiering in 1779. Her reunion with her brother is underplayed, but her longing for her homeland is clear. She eventually uses her manipulation and womanly charms to talk down Thoas from attacking her brother and Pylades, but none of the character’s power comes across in the delivery that hasn’t altered from her opening speech. Marie shows obvious pleasure at speaking Goethe’s words but gives equal weight to most of them, causing much of meaning to be lost. Her pace could have done with being kicked up a few notches in more urgent situations, but her grief for her family was touching.

The staging was an excellent balance of the foreground and the rear of the archaeological site. It was used enough to not be ignored, but not so much that action was lost. The set and lighting from Diana’s temple along the back wall created plenty of atmosphere, even as a backdrop when the action was on the stage. Director Pamela Schermann worked well with designers Gillian Steventon and Petr Vocka to create such an evocative atmosphere. Sound design by Philip Matejtschuk really ties the rest of the design elements together. The constant waves remind on we are by the sea and perfectly suits the large pool that dominates the Rose. A cinematic soundtrack emphasises moments of conflict or suspense, ending in the start of a storm as Thoas relents. The only design letdown is the costumes. They attempt to replicate Greek tunics and robes, but they are obviously altered t-shirts held in with women’s belts and the footwear is painfully modern. Iphigenia’s flowing gown is beautiful though, and suitable to a temple priestess.

It is a play not staged often and one particularly suited for the unique space of the Rose, so it is disappointing that the lead performance let it down. Fortunately two of the supporting actors add life and energy to a beautifully crafted script. This is one of the most effectively staged productions I’ve encountered at the Rose with thoughtful design elements that can easily become the star of the show.


The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.

Rhesus, everything theatre

“Trinity Buoy Wharf was new to me as a venue, but certainly worth the trip. It is far from a conventional performance space…There is no obvious stage or audience space…Excellent lighting design by Pablo Fernandez-Baz gives this stark, damp basement with challenging sight lines a polished, professional feel. The set by Zahra Mansouri is minimal, but suits the space well and the audience sit amongst it, included in the world of the play…

“…There is absolutely no actor-audience boundary initially, but this changes when the play properly starts. From then on, there is no contact from the performers…

“The text is spoken well and all of the actors seem comfortable with heightened language. The cast is predominately female…Whether or not it was intentional, due to the cast being very young (late teens to early twenties, I’d guess) it carried a disturbing reminder that many who fought in our past wars were young and child soldiers are a very real tragedy in many places around the world today…

“The most notable features in this production are the regular movement sequences between the scenes. Some are abstract, some capture the brutality of battle and killing. All of them are impeccably choreographed and directed by Ailin Conant of Theatre-Temoin

“The performances in this ensemble piece were good, but as is often the case with very young performers, few stood out. No one was particularly weak but neither was anyone outstanding…

“The venue is certainly worth experiencing in this well-designed production of a rarely performed play. Though a showcase, it is certainly not a difficult one to sit through.”

Read the entire review on everything theatre here.