In Memory of Leaves, Fordham Gallery Barge

Since 2013, Natasha Langridge has watched her neighbourhood become unrecognisable. As the developers and their machinery creep ever closer with every passing month, she documents their journey along side her love life. Birds sing in trees as she falls in love with Dave who lives in Korea, and those trees are chopped down as she gets off with her much younger Drama Lover.

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Hansel & Gretel, Museum of Childhood

I’ve never been to the V&A’s Museum of Childhood, let alone after hours. But in the expansive hall and gift shop, one corner has been set up as a playing space for Popup Opera’s Hansel & Gretel. There are shelves of toys and other souvenirs behind us, and sterile glass display cases behind the stage. Our cozy pocket in the grand room has a sinister gloom surrounding what with the autumn evening’s quickly fading light. It’s a suitable space for a story that mostly takes place in the woods overnight, when fairies and witches come out to play.

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The Principle of Uncertainty, Draper Hall

According to one of the theories of quantum mechanics we’re taught in The Principle of Uncertainty, we can be in multiple places at once. If only that were true. I could review way more shows than I can currently, go on holiday, live in multiple countries and hold down several jobs, all at once. It would be wonderfully productive. Dr Laura Bailey (Abi McLoughlin), the lecturer who explains the theory to us, has a simpler wish – to be able to see her daughter again.

We are Dr Bailey’s freshman class in Draper Hall, a housing estate community space in Elephant & Castle newly doubling as a performance venue run by veteran Italian polymath Stefania Bochicchio. The non-traditional space doesn’t have a lighting rig or backstage, so shows like this that defy theatrical conventions are a natural fit.

Closely resembling a lecture, this production takes time to get to its point but when it does, it breaks hearts. McLoughlin excels as the warm, enthusiastic Laura and utterly convinces as a scientist. Her gentle breakdown is a moving climax to a script as it begins to lose focus, with the attention shifting from equations and concepts to her own, personal story.

Dr Andrea Brunello’s script is science heavy, though it doesn’t matter if it’s understood or not. It takes awhile for the story to emerge from the lesson; though it doesn’t work if it’s earlier, this happens well after the question of what the performance’s point is arises. McLoughlin is fully engaging throughout even if it’s difficult to care about the content of the lecture.

The piece suits the space well, and takes a relaxed and accessible tone – a great choice for a south London council estate venue seeking to bring new audiences to theatre. An excellent performance in this a show that doesn’t feel like a show charms, educates, and provokes reflection on the important things in life.

The Principle of Uncertainty runs through 1 April 2017.

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.

DRINKS, Safehouse 1

Tucked between the hipster heaven that is the Bussey Building and south London armpit Peckham bus depot, Basic Space Festival has taken up a brief residency at Safehouse 1, one of a collection of formerly derelict properties managed by Maverick Projects. Sophie Andrea Mitchell’s DRINKS, one of the site-responsive festival productions, is a sitcom-ish, millennial comedy on reconciling friendship with growing up.

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Hotel Europe, The Green Rooms

As populism rises and fascists are tightening national borders with physical walls and stricter immigration regulations, the revolution is gaining speed. Protests and rallies are the most prominent forms of activism, but there is a growing movement in DIY and small actions.

Theatre isn’t standing by, either. In five of the bedrooms at the recently opened hotel for artists The Green Rooms, Isley Lynn and Philipp Ehmann have installed binaural radio drama performances telling stories of migration. With each story by a different writer, solo listeners are treated to intimate, personal accounts of characters impacted by migration. Quietly subversive, each story snapshots a changing world and the vulnerable people affected by the right wing’s knee-jerk, xenophobic reaction.

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Interview: Mark Brailsford on Staging Shakespeare’s Stories

When Brighton Shakespeare Company’s press release for their Macbeth tour of historical churches in Brighton and Sussex landed in my inbox, I was sorry I couldn’t make it. Shakespeare productions in churches and cathedrals wonderfully hark back to the grandeur of private performances for noblemen and royalty in the 16th century. Shakespeare’s epic stories sit well in the sweeping architecture of these ancient buildings, and on a practical level it’s a great way for companies to save money on sets and reach audiences in rural locations.

Used to the plethora of venues that showcase small-scale, fringe and progressive approaches to Shakespeare in London, I was curious about BSC’s unusually traditional approach. I spoke to artistic director and founder of this new regional company, Mark Brailsford, about the company’s work.

Tell me a bit about Brighton Shakespeare Company and its mission.

The BSC’s ethos takes a character-led approach inspired by Ron Moody and Stephen Berkoff. The company’s aims are to bring individual, characterful actors to the classics in the style of the time the plays were written.

How do you approach Shakespeare? What concepts to you employ?

We are apparently called radical because we set our productions in the period, something not many companies seem to do these days and we’re happy with this label. Many companies, but not all, like to have directors impose their directorial vision onto the plays whereas my approach is to be true to the story and genius of the Bard himself. [I aim] to bring them to life by allowing the story to stand on its own terms. After all, it seems to have worked for 400 years.

Why stage Shakespeare for audiences today?

[The] story. The themes and narratives are as relevant today as they have ever been. Love and loss, pain and laughter, war and peace and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. These exist in day-to-day lives all over the world.

What are some of the obstacles you and the company face?

Lack of money! We’re unfunded and back our shows via crowdfunding and box office.

Shakespeare is known for not supporting diversity. What steps are you taking to redress the balance?

This is a myth as there was more diversity in Shakespeare than commonly thought, especially for his time. His women are very strong characters, Othello was black and one of the best take-downs of antisemitism was Shylock’s speech in Merchant of Venice. He also gave prominent parts to working class characters, not a theme of Elizabethan life at the time.*

What do you hope audiences take away from your productions?

Joy, a tingling spine and a thrilling comprehension of the play.

*These views are not representative of those held by The Play’s the Thing UK or its writers.

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.

Barbarians, Tooting Arts Club

Punks Paul, Jan and Louis are working class lads living in south London. School didn’t do much for them and unemployment is high, so they hang around and smoke, nick cars and try to pull girls. They’re bored, angry and frustrated at the lack of opportunities available to poor kids like them. They want to improve their quality of life and feel like they belong in society, but society’s too busy fighting terrorism and racism to pay them any attention so they do their best to get by, or not. It sounds like the present, right? Nope. Barrie Keeffe’s Barbarians premiered in 1977. As London battles the National Front, striking unions and IRA bombs to a soundtrack of The Clash and The Sex Pistols, audiences can’t help but draw parallels between life then and now. It’s unsurprising this Tooting Arts Club/Soho Theatre production will soon be followed by the Young Vic’s, a completely different production of the same play, what with its contemporary social relevance and three fantastic roles for young actors to get stuck into. Though close to three hours long and composed of three self-contained plays at different points in the boys’ lives, the excellent performances, atmospheric venue and socio-political comment make the time well spent.

The long-vacant uni building on Tottenham Court Road used as the performance space for this production is the defining feature of this production, fostering intimacy, interaction and that overused catch-all word, “immersion”. The decaying interior surrounding the audience reinforces the poverty in the the lads’ and how grim it is for them day in and day out. We are in this world too, rather than just observing. Political slogans and graffiti cover the walls. The ceiling’s falling in above the youth club tables and chairs. Barriers herd spectators like cattle at a football match. Discarded furniture lines Notting Hill’s streets during carnival. The audience doesn’t sit on comfortable theatre seats, but on the items that make up the set. We aren’t comfortable, but nor should we be as neither are these guys. The three rooms that are used for the three separate plays contained in Barbarians are small and crowded with people; the actors’ energy rushes around the room, occasionally making contact with those of us watching but we never feel threatened despite the regularly erupting violence. There’s a feeling of claustrophobia created by this space, but also the possibility for the walls to be blown away by all rage. It’s a wonderful, angry whirlwind that encourages our inner “fuck the establishment” punk anarchists and empathy with the characters even though their actions are often abhorrent.

The cast is outstanding. Josh Williams is the aspirational black Louis; his skin colour is often unseen by his mates, and also makes him the victim of their racist “banter” and violence. Williams captures his inner strength and good intentions that eventually grow large enough to stand up for his beliefs. Whilst all of the characters want their lives to have a purpose, Louis doesn’t let leader Paul (Thomas Coombes) turn him into one of his violent minions as they grow up. Coombes’ terrifying Paul still manages to evoke sympathy when he is younger. His need to fit in always tends towards mob violence; the character reminds me of troubled young people from dysfunctional homes with little love around and no other knowledge of how to express frustration. Jake Davies is Jan, the shy mousy one who also tries to make something of himself but doesn’t have the inner strength that Louis does. Unsurprisingly, all three lads come to a horrible end when they meet again after going their separate ways, in the summer heat at Notting Hill Carnival.

Keeffe’s script is excellent and each of the playlets can stand alone and still make their point, but to present all three really drives the message home as the audience can see the effect of a poor quality of life on young people over a longer period of time. I would love to see a female equivalent of this play, as much of what’s contained in Barbarians is stereotypically male, and working class young women’s lives would have been no easier during the late 70s. Regardless, Tooting Arts Club’s production is worth seeing for its use of space and the effects it has on characterization and the energy of the piece. Director Bill Buckhurst’s work here is certainly to be commended in one of my theatrical highlights of this year.

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