Guards at the Taj, Bush Theatre

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Humayun and Babur have known each other since they were boys. Now the newest of emperor Shah Jahan’s imperial guards in Agra, the best friends work side-by-side on the night shift. Today is different, though. The first light of dawn will reveal the completed Taj Mahal, previously hidden from anyone other than its makers. Fit to burst with excitement, the two don’t know that the day to come will irrevocably change them as they fall prey to the giant cogs of the imperial machine.

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The Toll, Half Moon

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Luke Wright’s jovial demeanour and impressive word hoard sit at odds with his smudged eyeliner and black leather jacket. The unassuming performance poet skulks to the mic, breathes, then unleashes a torrent of verbal acrobatics snapshotting British everymen and women. From a Georgian dine and dasher, to a bloke from Essex who swears he saw a lion roaming a campground, Wright’s depictions bring these characters to life. His dexterity and character-driven performance has a theatricality missing from most performance poetry, but the polished story present in What I Learned From Johnny Bevan is notably absent in The Toll.

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Made in India, Soho Theatre

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@hannahnicklin: Since reading this I keep on thinking in quiet moments ‘women are raped nightly so I can have tomatoes in winter’

We know we exploit foreign workers for cheap goods, because we’re liberal and aware. But does that stop us? Largely, no – because we can’t afford to. I buy my clothes from Primark and my fruit and veg from the stalls that line Peckham Rye because I work in the arts and I’m poor. I don’t give any thought to where they come from in the transactional moment, but am righteously moved by articles like the one above that Hannah Nicklin tweeted. Sure, this makes me a hypocrite. But I need only to look at the other people also shopping on Sunday mornings to reinforce that I am far from alone. Most of my fellow “liberal elites” (educated, urban and left leaning) are the same, and centuries of imperialism (obviously white, male and western-led) have established the systems that the whole of society (including the liberal factions) implicitly condones through consumerism.

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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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The Long Trick, VAULT Festival

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Tristan is the stuff of Cornish legends. The Robin Hood-esque figure who lives along the Helford River gives much needed gifts to local people the moment they reach utter despair – or so people believe. The reality is rather different. Tristan does live on the Helford, on a boat with his teenaged daughter Kelsey. He can’t find a job so steals electronics from second homes and sells them on to make a living. He occasionally helps out locals when he’s feeling flush, but his virtue is up for debate. When Tristan meets Gale, a vegan activist who suddenly appears in Cornwall after years of drifting around Europe, his world is transformed, but not quite in the manner he expects.

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He(art), Theatre N16

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Chalk and cheese Alice and Rhys debate whether to purchase a painting in an art gallery. Simultaneously, siblings Kev and Sam hatch a plan to fund a life-saving procedure for their ill mum that the NHS won’t cover. Running at just over an hour, writer Andrew Maddock fits in the nature of art and its criticism, public health, social class, poverty and loyalty across two very different sets of characters in the same neighbourhood. It’s a lot for 65 minutes and whilst it’s not enough time to fully explore these themes, the play doesn’t feel crowded. Though the direction and performances are intuitive and finely tuned, Maddock’s outstanding verse poetry and use of non-naturalism is sorely missed in this surprising diversion from his trademark style.

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Three Sisters, Union Theatre

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“Nothing turns out the way we planned.”

Though 2016 has been riddled with despair, 2017 looks worse. With the fascist post-truth movement on the rise and Trump taking office in a matter of days, there is little to look forward to. Far-off lands look like alluring utopias, and it’s easy to fall prey to the lingering question of what the point is of carrying on in the face of all this societal disintegration. With existentialism one of the cruxes of the story, this Three Sisters is a bleak echo of present day narcissism and hopelessness. Phil Willmott’s staging of a new, pared back translation doesn’t stagnate, though. Combined with a strong cast, this is production uncannily suits our times.

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