Dark Vanilla Jungle, Theatre N16

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Andrea isn’t very well. In solitary confinement at some sort of secure facility, she has no one to talk to other than those who briefly visit and those who live in her head. It’s likely the audience is the latter, as her monologue reveals the story of a young woman unstoppably desperate to love and be loved. This desperate runs so deep that she conjures a past relationship with a vegetative amputee she encounters in passing at a hospital, and goes on to do Very Bad Things that land her in this facility.

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The Bad Seed, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

L-R Rebecca Rayne as Rhoda, Jessica Hawksley as Monica and Beth Eyre as Christine © David Monteith-Hodge

Rhoda is the picture-perfect 1950s American child. Obedient, clever and helpful, she is a dream for any parent. But after the death of a classmate who won the penmanship medal Rhoda coveted, mum Christine’s investigations into past “accident” uncover a dark secret from her own childhood that means Rhoda isn’t all that seems. The revelation ends in tragedy with serious implications for Rhoda’s future.

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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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The Wild Party, Hope Theatre

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By guest reviewer Martin Pettitt

The Wild Party, a simple and to-the-point title, perfectly describes the show as well as the evening I experienced. There was so much to like about this performance. Adapted into a performance piece here by Mingled Yarn Theatre Company, The Wild Party was originally a book-length narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March in the roaring twenties. Initially deemed too racy to publish, it has since become a seminal work finding ever more relevance as we venture further into the 2000s.

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Ugly Lovely, Old Red Lion

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It’s Shell’s 26th birthday and she’s not happy. Her boyfriend Carl is AWOL and probably banging Smelly Kelly, her nan died recently, and she wants to leave Wales for the big city of Liverpool. Her best mate Tash is trying to convince her to stay, but her reasons are far from convincing. Shell is miserable, frustrated and angry. She feels the pull of adventure, but the tug of the sea she knows so well is strong, too. Shell tries to decide what to do as best she can – chatting with the urn that holds her nan’s ashes, going out clubbing and leaving her son Kieran with her mum. Ugly Lovely snapshots down-at-heel but aspirational Swansea with well-rounded characters who are excellently performed within a promising script, but it has a somewhat unsatisfying resolution.

This is writer Ffion Jones’ first play, and as debuts go, it’s a a rather good one. She’s built a sound narrative structure, though some trimming wouldn’t go amiss. The plot isn’t complex enough to warrant the current length or the interval, though too much cutting would rush the climax and dénouement. She has written detailed, nuanced characters with emotional depth that rally the audience’s support, but this leads to disappointment when Shell ignores her ambitions. Jones has an aptitude for sharp dialogue and dark humour, and there are some brilliant comedic moments within the characters’ misery.

Jones plays Shell, endowing the character with emotional truth and lived experience. Sophie Hughes as her best friend Tash is her cheerful sidekick, maintaining a wonderful sense of optimism despite an abusive home life. Oliver Morgan-Thomas rounds out the cast as their laddish schoolmate Robyn who is also doing the best he can to get by, though isn’t the nicest of individuals. His introduction leads to a brutal conflict and adds variation to the individual scenes’ structures, and his rough charm brings a great energy to the dynamic created by the women.

Nikolai Ribnikov’s direction is smooth and instinctive, and Lizzy Leech’s set enhances the gritty naturalism of their day-to-day lives. There is an awkward park bench that doubles as a couch, and the exposed toilet sits unused and exposed in a corner for most of the play, but adds additional dinginess.

This is a great little play that is remarkably polished for a new writer; it shows much promise even though it could use some tweaking. Jones is clearly a skilled theatre maker, and the rest of the creative team serves her script excellently. Production company Velvet Trumpet did exceedingly well in choosing this script, and Jones is certainly one to watch as both an actor and writer.

Ugly Lovely runs through 16 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 Doctor in Spite of Himself, Drayton Arms Theatre

The Doctor in Spite of Himself (c) Ulysse Beauvois (3)

When the abusive, drunken woodcutter Sganarelle beats his wife one time too many, she takes advantage of passing strangers looking for a doctor to cure a young woman’s mysterious illness. Telling them she knows just the man, an eccentric but renowned man of medicine, sets the ball rolling on an absurd adventure of lust, remorse, and blagging it. Exchange Theatre, a French company based in London, have adapted Moliere’s The Doctor In Spite of Himself into a 75-minute contemporary version loaded with metatheatre, energy and good leading performances from a French cast. Plenty of slapstick, detailed design and Shakespearian influence make this a fun, easy to watch adaptation of the French classic.

Actor-director David Furlong plays Sganarelle with a goofy, watchable charm. His undeniable charisma is at odds with the unlikeable character, though his comeuppance and subsequent reform are a somewhat satisfying narrative despite the anti-feminist premise from the 1660s. Furlong is by far the strongest in the cast, but the others are generally good. Anita Adam Gabay as the mostly mute Lucinda exudes a sweet innocence, particularly in the opening montage where she discovers her betrothal to a man she doesn’t love. Matt Mella is the hilariously dumb Lucas, able to evoke laughter with a well-timed pause and a blank look. Some of the actors find it hard to connect to the language in English at times, but these jarring moments are fairly infrequent.

The edited plot occasionally feels rushed and overly compact, though it’s easy to follow and the translation uses relatively modern English. The excused wife beating is uncomfortably old fashioned, but at least it’s ridiculed – along with medicine and the gullibility of the upper classes. These themes translate fairly well to the modern day and English culture, especially considering the Shakespeare-esque comedy sequences that are likely to have drawn on the same commedia del’arte heritage that Shakespeare did. Furlong updates even further by adding in discreetly funny elements of self-reference, even if they don’t always work. The bust of Moliere as a weapon is cute, but characters dictating text to others from an anthology of Moliere plays isn’t as effective and causes energy to drop.

The design, presumably also by Furlong, incorporates an Elizabethan stage-within-a-stage to emphasise the metatheatre and clarify location. It’s clever and looks great, though it causes some difficulties with sightlines and narrows the playing area. Furlong’s overarching concept of using the metatheatre to create distance is a strong one what with its acknowledgment the absurdity of the story and the plot points that don’t work in a present day context.

This production of The Doctor in Spite of Himself is a funny, palatable adaptation of Moliere for London audiences. It’s a good laugh, a good length and has good performances. The company’s talent and vision is highly commendable and deserving of larger production values; their commitment to bringing audiences high quality French theatre in intimate venues makes them one to watch.

The Doctor in Spite of Himself runs through 17 July with performances in both French and English.

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.