Room, Theatre Royal Stratford East

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Originally a novel by Emma Donoghue that swept up the award nominations last year after being made into a film, Room is now a play. Adapted by the writer for the stage, it stays true to the original story of a young woman abducted at 19 and imprisoned as a sex slave. After two years in captivity she gives birth to her son Jack. Five years later as they celebrate his fifth birthday, all Jack has ever known is the inside of the shed. To ensure he copes, Ma’s taught him that the only things that are real are what’s inside the room. Everything outside isn’t real, and the pictures on their telly exist only in the small box. But Ma’s had enough and wants Jack to help them escape now that he’s big enough.

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Oh Yes Oh No

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Some questions for women:

Is it ok to want to be fucked?
                                 Does wanting this oppose feminism?
Is it ok to want to be hit in bed?                      Will this man expect that from other women?
Is it ok to fantasise about being raped?               What does this mean if I’ve been raped?

Louise Orwin is asking big questions about female sexuality and desire, but she doesn’t have the answers. There are no definitive answers anyway, just individual experiences. To make Oh Yes Oh No, she interviewed dozens of women around the country and found some disturbing patterns – about 90% of the women she met had been raped. Many of them developed rape fantasies. Women struggled to reconcile their feminism with wanting men to dominate them in bed.

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bare., Courtyard Theatre

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Three young women, three short solo performance pieces, three stories of vulnerability make bare., a thematically linked evening of new writing. Each of the three mini-plays has a distinct style and is performed by the writer. They vary in the quality of writing and inventiveness, and feel very new – more like scratch performances rather than finished pieces. bare. is a lovely concept – short, female solo performances that reveal hopes, fears, aspirations and conflict. It could easily become a regular event, giving women the chance to try out one-person work in front of an audience. As is, these pieces certainly need development but the three writer/performers show much promise and commendable initiative that, with development and experience, will certainly improve their work.

Kat Ronson is first, performing ‘IBZ’. This fragmented work follows a young woman’s journey from singledom into a loving relationship. The wild, drug fueled club nights transform into something more gentle and intimate, but her story does not end happily ever after. The young woman’s transformation is lovely, but the choppy writing makes for an unclear narrative and timeline. Ronson uses comedy punch lines and moments of reflective sincerity effectively, but this doesn’t balance out the vague writing. This piece would benefit from dramaturgical support and a hefty re-write, but the concept and central character are certainly workable.

American Steffanie Freedoff shows that yanks can handle their poetry and spoken word with ‘in the beginning there was Word’, a biographical monologue in verse about hating poetry as a teenager and growing to love it as an adult. This is also a coming-of-age story, but a much more positive one on self-discovery and confidence. It’s a bit cheesy and motivational, but the two stand-alone poems she ends on are angry, provocative and polished. The focus is on these pieces, which feel disconnected from the first part of the performance but add variation in style and tone. This second mini-play also needs development and shaping to find its overarching message, but it feels like it could be lengthened without becoming dull.

Madeleine Dunne brings a strong character piece to the trio with ‘Mind the Gap’, a piece that looks at the struggle of overcoming mental health issues. Lucy is a little girl terrified of breaking the rules and a young adult still limited by these fears. Told in two parts, Dunne’s gift for transformation is revealed in these two naturalistic monologues. It’s not clear who she is talking to and why in either section, but the character is a suitably interesting one. Lucy could also work well as the protagonist in a full play with multiple characters, perhaps even better with others to respond to rather than limited in a solo performance.

A quiet, sung finale wraps up the evening, a nice touch that adds some unity to these unrelated plays. bare. still feels like a scratch or showcase with a range in quality, but as a themed performance event, it is poignant and well curated. All three pieces need refining and/or expansion, though each shows at least some element of promise.

bare. runs through 16 July.

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Goodnight Polly Jones, Theatre N16

The wonderful thing about new writing is the potential for discovering unknown gems, perfectly formed and ready for a transfer or a tour, or a piece that is still finding its shape but its promise is evident. There’s also the chance of having to endure work that, though trying its hardest, isn’t ready to be put in front of critics. Goodnight Polly Jones is the latter. In its current state, Andrew Sharpe’s script bears more resemblance to a GCSE issue-based devised piece than a play suited to a professional small-scale theatre. Isolated scenes at key plot points and painfully long transitions with busy sound design and terrible voiceovers turn sexual assault and rape into a banal one hour, exacerbated by a performance matching the script’s clunkiness.

Ben Keenan as the jumped up, inappropriately hired Peter provides some redemption. He handles the awkward dialogue and tenuous circumstances extraordinarily well, adding gravitas and emotional truth to the HR manager with a disgustingly flippant disregard for sexual consent. Polly (Victoria Morrison) at her youngest and most immature supermarket clerk manages to match him, but as the older accountant taking that supermarket into administration, she is self-conscious and awkward.

The root problem of this production is the script. Composed solely of four distinct scenes at different times, they show dramatic change in tone and character development, but the story is neglected. This is potentially an important, character-driven play, but there’s no subtlety to the plot – every progression is beaten to death with dialogue rather than shown. The transitions attempt to fill in some gaps, but they too are overt, too long and too cringy, with am dram worthy voice acting. The resolution is half-baked, and Sharpe’s propensity for signposting (that treats the audience as if they were children with ADHD and learning difficulties) misses a glaring, albeit predictable, opportunity to tie up loose ends in the final moments of the play. The scenes as individual units aren’t awful, but the connective thread between them is most thin indeed.

Goodnight Polly Jones doesn’t completely lack potential, but it is in such an early stage of development that it feels wholly inappropriate to stage it in front of a judging audience. A scratch night or a workshop? Absolutely. Though it needs extensive work, it addresses an important issue with some isolated nice moments.

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.

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, Trafalgar Studios

rsz_four_minutes_twelve_seconds_-_kate_maravan_2_-_photo_ikin_yumWhat do you do if your teenaged son’s ex-girlfriend accuses him of sexual assault? What if her family refuses to go to the police and takes justice into their own hands instead? Di (Kate Maravan) and David (Jonathan McGuinness) don’t know either, and they’re living this nightmare every moment of Four Minutes Twelve Seconds. They have huge aspirations for their bright boy, hoping he makes it out of the Croydon that they themselves never managed to leave. But those dreams are teetering precariously on top of vicious rumours…or are they facts? Seventeen-year-old Jack who the audience never sees, may or may not have uploaded a film, that may or may not show him forcing himself on his girlfriend Cara (Ria Zmitrowicz) in the run-up to his A-level exams. As his parents try to discover the objective truth of the situation, some awful discoveries come to light. In short, fast scenes spanning several months, social class, parental aspiration and sexism influence the four characters’ choices in this riveting, dialogue-driven one-act.

This energetic first play by James Fritz, writer of the acclaimed Ross & Rachel at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, doesn’t shy away from honest, infuriating material confronting ingrained attitudes that interfere with rape convictions (at the end of the play I was so angry I was shaking with the knowledge that these sorts of things probably happen all the time). A ferocious Maravan leads with an intense, focused performance and a satisfying character journey. To see a mother cope with drastically altering perceptions of her own child is heart rending, particularly as her husband’s views often clash with her own.

This is definitely an “issue” play, albeit a sophisticated one, that looks at the role of social media and the selfie culture in the lives of young people who don’t fully understand the implications of putting every detail of their life on the internet. It also looks at consent, sexist definitions of rape and how police view rape accusations. There’s also the question of how to treat crimes committed within one’s own family, vigilante justice and taking responsibility for mistakes. It’s a packed script, but manages to not overwhelm with ideas. Fritz’s dialogue is advanced for a first play, if formulaic in its gradual revealing of information. He liberally uses humour and nuanced humanity to counter the dark subject matter; these characters could easily be portrayed as stereotypes, like the sort in a bad TIE play.

On that note, this would be an excellent production to tour to secondary schools, colleges and unis, particularly since this attitude is so prevalent: https://metrouk2.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/12165535_470783216459605_1739814260_o.jpg?w=748&h=561&crop=1Frankly, this is a crucial piece of theatre that all young people growing up in our cyber-obsessed culture should see. With simple design elements that draw attention to the dialogue and story, it would be easy to tour this powerful production.

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is hip as well as topical and provocative. Witholding Jack’s appearance draws attention to the wider impact of his actions rather than wallowing in his emotional state, a wise choice by Fritz. Excellent performances by the company and snappy dialogue keep our attention as well as enrage, but what would we do if we were in Di and David’s shoes? Though we all strive for justice for rape victims, we are but judgemental, selfish humans after all, and that is the real flaw in the system.


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