The Unbuilt City, King’s Head Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

Claudia is a reclusive collector whiling away the time in her Brooklyn Heights townhouse overlooking the East River and lower Manhattan. Jonah is a young writer day jobbing for his old university’s academic archives. He’s been sent to see if Claudia has a priceless item, long thought lost, hidden away in her home. As her life approaches it’s midnight hour, she is desperate to cling to the last thing that gives her some power and Jonah is desperate to win this commission which would financially secure his immediate future.

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Trainspotting Live, Vaults

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by Laura Kressly

Two men pelting it down Princes Street in Edinburgh as a voiceover lists the goals of typical adult life – big tellys, cars, careers – is one of the most iconic moments in British cinema. Ranked tenth by the BFI in its 1999 evaluation of best British films, Trainspotting has left an indelible mark on popular culture.

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The Magic Flute, King’s Head Theatre

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by guest critic Alistair Wilkinson

The King’s Head Theatre has been turned into a South American jungle, and we are invited to go along with the intrigued explorer Tamino, as he embarks on his journey to discover a world full of magical beings. In this world, and actually this performance too, nothing is what is expected.

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Russian Dolls, King’s Head Theatre

Russian Dolls at King's Head Theatre, Stephanie Fayerman and Mollie Lambert_1 © Andreas Grieger

Camelia’s just got out of young offenders’ but her mum never turned up to collect her, so she’s back to looking after herself. Hilda is a blind elderly woman fending of her goddaughter’s attempts to move her to Basingstoke. When Camelia robs Hilda after tricking into believing she’s covering for her carer, the two end up influencing each other much more than ever expected. Kate Lock’s Russian Dolls tells the fraught story of an unlikely dependency that is doomed to end badly for both women. Lock’s characters are fantastic, and their scenes together are tense and charged with moments of genuine tenderness. In between the scenes are narrative monologues that, whilst providing necessary information, are awkwardly addressed to the ether and disrupt the story’s momentum.

Stephanie Fayerman as Hilda and Mollie Lambert as Camelia are a volatile pair. The energy between them is either stormy or potentially so; the tension makes them wonderfully watchable. Their few scenes of relaxed openness towards the other are fleeting, but hugely rewarding and loaded with tough love. Both performances are excellent, and the dependency on the other is great to watch.

There is no sentimentality towards young people, the care system or aging in Lock’s script. The lack of happy ending is a touch disappointing, but it’s accurate. The stories of young people from broken homes actually managing to turn their lives around are rare considering the 69,540 young people in care as of March last year. Every now and again an “inspiring” case hits the news, but for the majority of these children, their lives are part of an endless cycle of poverty, abuse, drugs and jail time. Well done to Lock for not going the easy route with her narrative.

Structurally, the script is quite simple and there are large, frustrating chronological jumps that skips huge sections of both characters’ emotional journeys. This could easily be a full length, two-act play and would work very well as such. Provided the current ending is kept, a 2 hour or so build up would make it all the more devastating.

Russian Dolls, winner of the Adrian Pagan Award and shortlisted for the Bruntwood Prize, is a bolshy play full of life in all of its glorious imperfections. It’s an honest look at the care system and its flaws, but the actors’ characterization and electric relationship is the highlight of this new play.

Russian Dolls runs through 23 April.

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.

To Kill a Machine, King’s Head Theatre

To Kill a Machine: Scriptography Productions

How well can you condense Alan Turing’s life and work into one hour? Considering his technologically groundbreaking career, WWII code breaking and conviction for crimes of gross indecency, that’s a lot of source material for precious little time. Catrin Fflur Huws chooses to focus on the man behind the achievements at various pivotal points in his life for To Kill a Machine. From boarding school days to chemical castration shortly before his death, Huws shows the relationships rather than the events that shaped his life. Scenes of naturalism are interspersed with a surreal, presentational game show indicating the factors outside of Turing’s control that dictate his unfortunate fate at the hands of discrimination. Though stylistically dynamic, they are less compelling than the latter. Together, they make a good whole but with so much missing from Turing’s life, the highlights contained in To Kill a Machine shortchange the story of such an important man.

In the centre of a round platform, a wiry, mechanical tree by designer Cordielia Ashwell sprouts important mementos from Turing’s life: a photograph of Christopher, his first love at school, pages of indecipherable code, and the apple that he may or may not have used to kill himself. Its trunk is also a convenient place to store props and costume, but the visual aspect is the most dominant, and strikingly so. The symbol of life manifested in an everlasting, sculptural form against the items that were his downfall is powerful image.

The tree also dictates circular movements from the cast of four, most prominent in the game show scenes and Turing’s sex with his younger lover, Arnold Murray, who eventually betrays him – the moments where his life spirals irrevocably out of control. Alan’s eventual tethering to the tree via medical equipment during his “treatment” is a horrible,  effective reminder of history’s handing of people discovered to be gay and sapping their life force with discriminatory legislation.

Gwydion Rhys as Alan Turing is the anchor in the cast, with a nuanced and sensitive performance that leaves Benedict Cumberbatch’s generic interpretation in the dust. He is complimented well by intimate scenes with François Pandolfo as his school friend Christopher, and older brother John giving him advice in the run up the trial. This latter scene is by far the best in the play.

Though the script is good, it’s short length is unsatisfying and otherwise dwarfed by the performances and design. The structure works as does the lens with which it views Turing’s life, but surely there is more than an hour’s worth of material on the man behind the life-changing mathematician and inventor.

To Kill A Machine runs through 23 April.

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.

Something Something Lazarus, King’s Head Theatre

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Musical theatre is growing rapidly on the fringe, thanks to venues that focus on small-scale shows and producers staging lesser-known works. New British musicals are seen less often, with only a handful of producers focusing on bringing audiences this new musical writing. Broken Cabaret, around since 1997, aim to create new kind of musical. Something Something Lazarus is part cabaret, part backstage/play-within-a-play dark comedy, part surreal fantasy. The structure is the most interesting part of the show, with a plot and songs that are sometimes surreally nonsensical. Performances are consistently excellent and whilst there isn’t always the sense that Something Something Lazarus is radically innovative, it has a British quirkiness that US imports, the most commonly produced musicals on the fringe and commercially, lack.

Four characters based on contrasting musical theatre and cabaret stereotypes generate plenty of conflict and more than a few laughs. Daisy Amphlett as Della is a no-nonsense musical director and accompanist with no patience for, well, anything. Amphlett’s powerful voice and ferocious presence is a joy to watch along with her ability to play several instruments. Valerie Cutko as fading star Vee is glamourous, seductive and rather useless, belonging somewhere more than the Midnight Sun cabaret. Daniel (Ralph Bogard) runs the venue with his twink bartender boyfriend and aspiring singer, Jay (Daniel Cech-Lucas). Daniel and Jay don’t have much love for each other; it’s a relationship of boredom and convenience amusingly played by both. When an unexpected delivery from Daniel’s ex arrives, his freewheeling emotions cause a violent eruption that moves the action, and the real cabaret, into Jay’s mind.

Much of the story takes place in real-time before the evening’s show starts. It’s pretty typical meta, backstage fare but with music and dialogue flowing into each other like an actual rehearsal – a lovely change from standard musical theatre structure. Though not innovative, it’s nice to see a more low-key, Kiss Me, Kate type of musical. The action is continuous and the dialogue feels natural, though the characters are more heightened versions of those you typically encounter in this environment. John Myatt’s dialogue is punchy and fun, with plenty of bitchiness. The cabaret-in-my-head section is both surreal and more like an actual cabaret performance – a disorientating but more interesting outcome, and with more memorable songs by Simon Arrowsmith than the first part of the show.

Accompanying the show is Simon and Jonny Arrowsmith’s transmedia, three websites that add further detail to the world of Something Something Lazarus that isn’t clarified within the dialogue and plot. Whilst it’s a great extension of the performances, I’m uncertain how much audiences engage with the work. I expect transmedia will come to be used more and more, what with the legacy it creates and an easy way to further engage with audiences.

Though Something Something Lazarus isn’t as innovative as it makes itself out to be, there are a lot of great elements. The performances are excellent, the transmedia is a nice touch and it’s great to see British theatre makers creating new musical theatre that doesn’t follow American trends.

Something Something Lazarus is at the King’s Head Theatre until 2nd April.

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.