Our Country’s Good, Theatre Royal Stratford East

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by an anonymous guest critic

Ramps to the Moon’s Our Country’s Good delivers a production that seamlessly integrates actors with and without disabilities to produce excellent all round performances. Originally written by Timberlake Wertenbaker in 1988, it tells the extraordinary true story of a group of convicts in Australia, who in 1797 with the help of an officer, rehearse and perform a play despite the odds being stacked against them due to strong opposition from the other officers at the settlement.

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The Drill, Battersea Arts Centre

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by Laura Kressly

‘See it. Say it. Sorted.’

Every Londoner knows this slogan from the British Transport Police encouraging us to be vigilant as we go about our days. Be alert, and if you see something suspicious, report it.

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The Tin Drum, Shoreditch Town Hall

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Oskar is a child of myth and legend. Or maybe he’s just bad-tempered and noisy. Either way, he comes into a fictional world of darkening shadows that’s clearly pre-WWII Europe. Born with a fully adult brain, he looks down on most people around him but has simple, childish request – that his mother buys him a tin drum.

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The Marked, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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It’s so easy to ignore the homeless people that line the periphery of routine journeys and forget they are just as human as the rest of us, with passions, fears and often troubled pasts. The Marked puts homeless young man Jack at the centre of a desolate, urban landscape populated with pigeons, people who move him on and demons from his past. Masks and puppetry add a richness to his story, but not always warmth. In most of Jack’s encounters, be they real or in his head, he is believably under threat.

Peter Morton’s puppets are sweet and whimsical, with Jack’s pigeon companion being particularly lovely and with an excellent range of movement. Jack as a child has a sadness to him, emphasised further by familial alcoholism that we can assume eventually drives him away from home.

Grotesque masks by Grafted Cede Theatre are skilfully used to differentiate between fantasy and reality, with the haunted, oversized faces ever in the back of Jack’s eyes. Zahra Mansouri’s costumes make these figures larger than life and all the more threatening, rendering Jack helpless in their presence and the audience to empathise.

Devised by the cast of three and presumably with the support of director Allin Conant, the spoken text centres around Jack’s encounters with a homeless couple, Pete and Sophie. Here is where the show falls short: the potential for conflict and tenderness amongst the three isn’t fully realised due to too few, underwritten scenes. Though these human characters ground Jack in reality somewhat, there is also little focus on the dichotomy of reality vs. demons. There is real potential for a fight for Jack’s life or sanity between the two forces, but the script doesn’t capture as much of Jack’s struggle as it could.

Visually, this is a wonderful production that makes some powerful points on the mental health of homeless people. Jack becomes a fully realised person through the creatures that haunt him, but his encounters with other humans don’t do him full justice.

The Marked tours nationally through 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.

Counting Sheep, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Just over two years ago, a revolution in Kiev ushered in the downfall of the Ukranian government. Protests against the government’s refusal to sign pro-EU legislation lasting months had several violent outbursts that saw hundred of people injured and 780 killed. Toronto-based Ukrainian musician Marichka Kudriavtseva, in Kiev for work at the time, joined the protesters where she met Mark Marczyk, also based in Canada.

When the two returned from the Ukraine, they teamed up with Marczyk’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra to create Counting Sheep, an immersive “guerrilla folk opera”. A celebration of solidarity and the power of a collective voice, it also mourns those who died in the protests. Told from the perspective of the protesters, little is shared from the other side – but this rallying performance is fitting homage to not just the Ukranian protesters, but those fighting government tyranny around the world.

Some audience sit around a huge table, whilst others sit on the sides of the space and still others up in a balcony. Klezmer or folk music is playing as the audience enters; there is a convivial atmosphere as the show formally starts. This is a party, or a wedding, or some other huge gathering, until the three screens display news reports of riots and police enter. The tone abruptly shifts, and the world that has been established is dismantled. It’s a wonderful, unsettling surprise.

The space is consistently reformed and redrawn using movement, and the audience is physically moved in the wake of the protesters’ gains and losses. They are willing and unquestioning, the sheep of the title. Though the numbers here obviously pale to those at the actual protest, but incorporating the audience in acts such a building barricades and lobbing bricks at police fosters unity from disparate dozens. There is a hint of the solidarity and aggression found in protests, and joy and celebration from the audience who are keen to play. Being served food is also an important enabler that solidifies the unity the show aims to create.

Counting Sheep is hugely effective in its emotional manipulation, and also it’s storytelling through music, movement and projections. Choosing sheep as a metaphor is a curious choice, though. The benign but rather dumb livestock aren’t known for thinking for themselves and are susceptible to herding – otherwise, they wander around unproductively, getting lost and eaten by predators. Whilst the performers are the herders here, they are also in sheep masks, unempowered. Who then are the herders? The government? Unseen forces of political and social unrest? Whatever it is, us human beings are hugely susceptible to it when motivated enough, even if the metaphor isn’t totally clear.

Though sung completely in Ukranian, there is a clear storyline conveyed through projections and movement. There is little nuance in this piece, but it a playground for the sweeping emotions of popular theatre. It provides at least a hint of the experience that the Ukranian protesters endured, and powerfully unites the audience through the humanity of collective experience for a common goal. An excellent piece of theatre.

Counting Sheep runs through 29th August.

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.

Two Man Show, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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RashDash are angry. Like, fucking furious level of angry. They’re fed up of patriarchal language and gender stereotypes that limit both men and women from expressing themselves honestly. So they made a show about it. Two Man Show has three women in it, music and dance, nudity and a lot of explosive energy. It’s part science lecture, part role play and part celebration of who we are without others’ judgment and categorisation based on gender expression. It’s a fantastic, “fuck yeah” explosion of pretty skirts, masculinity, tits, cockfighting and nonconformity. It’s also pretty bloody brilliant.

Out of an opening tirade on equality in the dawn of human history, Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen take on the roles of two brothers, Dan and John. They don’t get on, arguing almost constantly about caring responsibilities for their terminally ill father. Their fighting builds in between movement and dance sequences of surprising intimacy and tenderness.

The culmination to Dan and John’s tension is a fantastic eruption of John’s frustrated masculinity feeling limited by “man things”. His words twists through Abbi’s, the man-woman who is happy in her own skin but doesn’t really suit any of that girly shit. Helen’s feminine contrast powerfully reinforces the importance of choice and freedom and that a woman doesn’t need to be butch to be a feminist and a man can express his feelings and do “feminine things” without his heterosexual maleness being threatened.

Greenland and Goalen’s performances are endowed with conviction and energy, and both are skilled physical performers who can convincingly play men, even with their breasts unveiled. They are accompanied by a musician, who backs them up with unfettered tunes of frustration and celebration.

This is a truly feminist show. Rather than blaming men, Two Man Show looks at the conventions of language that aids female suppression and acknowledges that men are not served by this system, either. Fabulously sequinned and ferociously opinionated, this is not one to miss.

Two Man Show runs through 27th August.

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.