Day Two at Buzzcut Festival

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Part of the reason I wanted to come to Buzzcut is that I find it hard to write about live art. I don’t dislike it, far from it – I have a broad but uninformed appreciation of it. But my theatrical home is built from Shakespeare, text-based narratives and the great American playwrights. I’m no Megan Vaughan or Rosie Curtis – I see performance art every now and again, but not nearly enough as I should. So the goal is to see a lot of live art, and write about. The range in styles and approaches is vast and the festival draws live artists from around the country, so it’s a great place to experience this form of performance.

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The Monkey, Theatre 503

The Monkey - Theatre 503, George Whitehead and Morgan Watkins, photos by Simon Annand 2

Tel and Dal are two Sarf London geezas who grew up together on a Bermondsey estate. Dapper and ambitious Tel has moved up in the criminal underworld, away from Dal’s small-scale thieving so they don’t see each other much. Dal’s less aspirational, still robbing people on the street with his mate Becks. When they’re not out working, Dal and Becks get their drugs from young dealer Al, who lives upstairs. Life’s ticking along as normal until Tel shows up unannounced looking for the money he leant to Al a month ago. Tel’s volatile temperament, sharp intelligence and vanity mean the other three are no match for the increasing danger.

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Politic Man, Ivy House

What with growing up outside of the UK, my knowledge of British history is quite patchy. I can tell you a lot about the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras when Shakespeare was alive, but outside of these time periods, I know little. I quite like social history, so learning about new-to-me historical figures through theatre is an event of joyous discovery. What with my leftie sentiments currently battered, encountering someone from the past committed to social justice and equality adds to the excitement even if the play has its shortcomings.

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Wish List, Royal Court

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Nineteen-year-old Tamsin wants to be a normal teenager. She wants to go to college, flirt with cute boys and go down the pub. She doesn’t want to be stuck in a cycle of poverty that dictates she’s either doing manual labour at a “fulfilment centre”, or caring for her younger brother with OCD so severe he can’t leave the house. Everyday is a struggle to keep herself together since her mum died and British society has turned against them. To the wider world, she and her brother are tiny, invisible cogs in a brutal machine out to destroy the most vulnerable.

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The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Finborough Theatre

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In the first part of Tony Harrison’s The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Victorian archaeologist Grenfell struts and frets around a group of silent Egyptians sifting through scraps of papyrus. He maniacally monologues on his quest to find Sophocles’ lost plays and works himself into such a frenzy that he begins to hallucinate. This triggers an inexplicable leap to ancient Greece where a satyr play is acted out and cloth phalluses abound, then another transition to a modern day street populated by homeless men.

Though there is some thematic consistency, the three stories are otherwise unrelated by plot and style. What initially appears to be a play-within-a-play turns out to be a disjointed and disappointing triptych, much like the fragments of papyrus that litter the stage.

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Fury, Soho Theatre

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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.

The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective, Battersea Arts Centre

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Kids have it tough, especially if they’re poor. Decreasing social mobility, higher costs of education and living, and decreasing welfare are trapping our future generations in inescapable cycles of poverty. They are just as aspirational as young people from more privileged backgrounds and aware of the opportunities they don’t have. They are angry, frustrated and lack the opportunity to constructively express their feelings that often go completely disregarded by more comfortable members of society.

Theatre-Rites and 20 Stories High, seeing validity in their voices, worked with numerous young people in this demographic to devise a gig-theatre show that shares experiences of being a poor teenager in Britain today. The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective is an empowering, important work that uses fantastic puppetry, mask and music to create a gloriously messy collage of young people’s concerns and issues. Structurally mirroring the rough and ready, fractured existence of urban youth culture, it rebels against theatrical and cultural preconceptions without apology for its flaws.

Elisha Howe’s (aka Elektric) soaring rhymes and Jack Hobbs (aka Hobbit) beatboxing energise the audience and establish a defiant, proud tone that carries through the show. They are not backing down, nor are B-boy Ryan Harson (aka LoGisTics) and puppeteer Mohsen Nouri. They literally zoom in on the tiny model tower blocks and street scenes of urban Britain, replicated in cardboard wonderfully extracted from the plain back wall, creating a landscape of alternating songs with monologues. These set pieces and puppets pass on the otherwise unknown life stories of young people they’ve met.

Omar is an insecure, confrontational grey hoodie that takes the whole show to find his voice. Jack’s a wannabe gangsta who knocks up Latifa (both with cartoonish, cardboard heads) and ditches her and the resulting child that reflects on how that’s shaped his life goals. Joanne is the Papergirl who cuts herself because her mum’s boyfriend abused her. There’s also the incredible Speaker Boy, a rotund, playful chap with a boombox for a head. Each puppet is as unique as the young person behind it, and just as inspiring. (Seriously, go look at the puppets’ photos in the gallery part way down the page; they are some of the most emotionally endowed bits of paper and foam I’ve ever encountered. All of these characters unashamedly demand attention with precise, evocative storytelling and a joyfully visualised presence. These stories are broadcast along side an ever-changing soundtrack with interjections of dance, banter and spoken word, simultaneously creating an atmosphere of celebration and seriousness. Though fun, it never loses the sense of the weight behind the work.

Despite the boldness in the work and the importance of its messages, there are some sloppy transitions that cause the piece to lose momentum. Elektric unnecessarily introduces each number by name, and there are some in-jokes between the performers that, whilst sweet, don’t carry energy with their small scale. This gives the whole piece a choppiness that makes it feel unfinished.

All four performers’ exemplary skillsets and vibrance are fantastic vehicles for the young people of this country seeking escape from the poverty that is so limiting to their ambition. Each moment connects to the next through a theme rather than a storyline, but the effect mirrors modern society: a bit messy, emotional and ambitious for a better life. The fun doesn’t override or trivialize the seriousness, and neither is it too weighty. The unpolished feel is very much ingrained in the gig-theatre style, and though it would be great to learn more about the characters presented, The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective truly holds a mirror up to nature.

The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective runs through 2 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.