Digging Deep, Vault Festival

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by Laura Kressly

CW: suicide and self-harm

Mossy is only 22 but he’s tired of life. He can’t shake the feeling that there’s nothing more than this, so the best option is to call it a day and kill himself. His only concern is that his mum won’t be able to afford his funeral, so he convinces his reluctant mates to launch a fundraising campaign before he goes. Touching on toxic masculinity, male friendship, euthanasia and voyeuristic media consumption, this new script has some clumsy writing but the themes that propel the action forward to a surprising end smartly support the story of friendship.

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Brutal Cessation and Dust, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Actor and writer Milly Thomas is an unstoppable force refusing to shy away from tough material. A First World Problem, her most recent play, lays bare the cruel adolescent world of a top girls’ private school. Her two shows at the fringe are stylistically different from each other, but both are similarly confrontational. Brutal Cessation forces the audience to examine the gender stereotypes within an abusive, cishet relationship and Dust, the significantly stronger of the two works, is a monologue on mental health and suicide.

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Anatomy of a Suicide, Royal Court

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by guest critic Simona Negretto

When a trauma shatters the crystalline equilibrium and accepted dynamics of a family, is the tendency for the generations that follow to repeat it inescapably or can a single individual react against that?

Alice Birch’s new work, Anatomy of a Suicide, courageously investigates how the suicide of a mother affects the lives of a daughter and a granddaughter, haunts their own motherhood (or causing the lack of it) and their relationships. Simultaneously staging the three intertwined stories of Carol, Anna and Bonnie during three different eras – the 70s, the 90s and the near future – the play ambitiously creates a multidimensional and multi-level world engaging the audience and the actors in an extraordinary and overwhelming tour de force.

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Glockenspiel, Tristan Bates Theatre

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In the programme notes for Steven Dykes’ Glockenspiel, we are told that 40% of current personnel have been deployed more than once, and 27% of those veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from anxiety disorders and/depression. A fifth of ex-service people are unemployed, and a fifth report cases of domestic violence. Male ex-service members are twice as likely to commit suicide than their non-serving peers. So it’s no secret that the US doesn’t look after its veterans very well. The play tries to look at the effects of service on those now finding their way in the civilian world, but Old Sole Theatre Company’s execution doesn’t deliver the power needed for this slowly-developing script.

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An Inspector Calls, Playhouse Theatre

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Seventy years ago, J B Priestley’s thriller An Inspector Calls was first staged in the UK. Twenty-five years ago, Stephen Daldry’s acclaimed, progressive production opened at the National. His approach shook up the insular, drawing room script in order to highlight the selfish elitism of the middle and upper classes and has been regularly staged since 1992. Now, in a post-Brexit, post-Trump 2016 punctuated by hate crime, polarised political views and gaping social inequality, Daldry’s production about the death of a working class woman known to all members of a posh family still feels relevant. Though there are some clunky moments and miss-matched performance styles, the crusade for accountability and justice that drives the plot keeps this play firmly in the present within a stunning production concept.

Daldry’s interpretation manifests through Ian MacNeil’s design that takes much of the action out of the Birling family home and into the dark, wet street below. Copious fog and treacherous cobbles interfere with their joyous engagement celebrations and ruling class entitlement, endowing the inspector with more power as the Birlings are actually destabilised. The family and their guests are drawn out of the warm comfort of their stilted home that quickly becomes remote and inaccessible, and made to face the dirty secrets that Inspector Goole extracts from each of them in a landscape of damp despair. As their individual facades collapse, so does the home that protects and elevates them from the working classes, the people of the streets. Some of the set transitions are a bit mechanical, but it’s otherwise a powerful visual metaphor and one that’s excellently executed.

The cast’s performances are good, though there are a few different styles. Barbara Marten’s matriarchal Sybil Birling is comedically melodramatic, earning a laugh whenever she speaks. Considering the gravity of the play’s message, this is a strange choice and one that clashes with the largely naturalistic work from the rest. Liam Brennan is an excellent Inspector Goole, earthy and immoveable. Clive Francis is a somewhat frail Arthur Birling, though his vocal power and characterful rage keep him in constant battle with the inspector.

This visually striking production is still relevant what with Priestley’s attacks on the British class system and the casualness with which the upper classes and government treat the lives of the working class and those down at heel. The energy, pace and tension keep it from descending into stale playacting that dances around a real, serious problem and the high production values give it popular appeal and spectacle. With hope, its wide reach will have a big impact and remind audiences that the unseen, working girl in the play is the entire population of impoverished people in this country at the mercy of those with more financial power.

The Inspector Calls runs through 4 February.

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