Insignificance, Arcola Theatre

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by an anonymous guest critic

As we enter the Arcola main stage, we are presented with a hotel room in midtown Manhattan circa 1954. Albert Einstein sits on the bed going over some notes on his legal pad.

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Double Double Act, Unicorn Theatre

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What happens when two experimental performance artists join forces with a few kids to make a kids’ show? Utterly delightful, if messy, madness. 1990s Nickelodeon is a clear influence, as are fart jokes, poo, time bending and parallel universes. An attempt at education intrudes near the end, but otherwise the script is a joyful, jokey celebration of all things silly and gross. There are moments, particularly in the beginning, that are a touch too self-serving for a show pitched to children, but there’s plenty of slapsticky fun for adults and young people alike.

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Something Something Lazarus, King’s Head Theatre

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Musical theatre is growing rapidly on the fringe, thanks to venues that focus on small-scale shows and producers staging lesser-known works. New British musicals are seen less often, with only a handful of producers focusing on bringing audiences this new musical writing. Broken Cabaret, around since 1997, aim to create new kind of musical. Something Something Lazarus is part cabaret, part backstage/play-within-a-play dark comedy, part surreal fantasy. The structure is the most interesting part of the show, with a plot and songs that are sometimes surreally nonsensical. Performances are consistently excellent and whilst there isn’t always the sense that Something Something Lazarus is radically innovative, it has a British quirkiness that US imports, the most commonly produced musicals on the fringe and commercially, lack.

Four characters based on contrasting musical theatre and cabaret stereotypes generate plenty of conflict and more than a few laughs. Daisy Amphlett as Della is a no-nonsense musical director and accompanist with no patience for, well, anything. Amphlett’s powerful voice and ferocious presence is a joy to watch along with her ability to play several instruments. Valerie Cutko as fading star Vee is glamourous, seductive and rather useless, belonging somewhere more than the Midnight Sun cabaret. Daniel (Ralph Bogard) runs the venue with his twink bartender boyfriend and aspiring singer, Jay (Daniel Cech-Lucas). Daniel and Jay don’t have much love for each other; it’s a relationship of boredom and convenience amusingly played by both. When an unexpected delivery from Daniel’s ex arrives, his freewheeling emotions cause a violent eruption that moves the action, and the real cabaret, into Jay’s mind.

Much of the story takes place in real-time before the evening’s show starts. It’s pretty typical meta, backstage fare but with music and dialogue flowing into each other like an actual rehearsal – a lovely change from standard musical theatre structure. Though not innovative, it’s nice to see a more low-key, Kiss Me, Kate type of musical. The action is continuous and the dialogue feels natural, though the characters are more heightened versions of those you typically encounter in this environment. John Myatt’s dialogue is punchy and fun, with plenty of bitchiness. The cabaret-in-my-head section is both surreal and more like an actual cabaret performance – a disorientating but more interesting outcome, and with more memorable songs by Simon Arrowsmith than the first part of the show.

Accompanying the show is Simon and Jonny Arrowsmith’s transmedia, three websites that add further detail to the world of Something Something Lazarus that isn’t clarified within the dialogue and plot. Whilst it’s a great extension of the performances, I’m uncertain how much audiences engage with the work. I expect transmedia will come to be used more and more, what with the legacy it creates and an easy way to further engage with audiences.

Though Something Something Lazarus isn’t as innovative as it makes itself out to be, there are a lot of great elements. The performances are excellent, the transmedia is a nice touch and it’s great to see British theatre makers creating new musical theatre that doesn’t follow American trends.

Something Something Lazarus is at the King’s Head Theatre until 2nd April.

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.

Botallack O’Clock, Old Red Lion Theatre

Roger Hilton was an abstract artist working in Cornwall until his death in 1975. As alcoholism and ill health took hold, he confined himself to a basement bedroom and studio, prolifically churning out work in the middle of the night. Modelling Hilton’s experimental work, playwright Eddie Elks (of Mugs Arrows acclaim) has crafted an unconventional dialogue between an ageing, ill man finding late-night solace in his art, and his radio. Elks begins in naturalism, then surreal expressionism sets in like a lucid dream. The mind of an artist is an unusual, hard to pin down thing inventively captured and well performed in Botallack O’Clock, accompanied by the sadness of approaching death and the need to leave a legacy.

Ken McClymont’s set recreates Hilton’s studio/bedroom with excellent accuracy and detail, and a bit of theatre trickery further enhances the surrealism and absurdity. Photographic projections reinforce the authenticity of the set, complete with drying paintings strung around the periphery and paintbrushes everywhere. A 1960’s radio benignly sits centre stage next to a desk with paper and paints. With Dan Frost as an angular Roger folded on the corner of a mattress and the radio next to him, they become equals. The wardrobe on the back wall is also more than it appears, as are the walls themselves. Particularly bizarre but wonderful moments include the old man struggling to be reborn through the wall and Roger’s energetic bogey with a surprise visitor.

The power in this script is the juxtaposition of the profundity and truth in Roger’s dialogue with his radio, and the veering away from reality that happens soon after insomnia slowly wakes him. It surprises and disarms; Roger’s negotiation of this alteration is charming and confessional, provoking reflection on one’s own mortality. But it’s also deliciously funny and sweet, though begins to feel too long about fifteen minutes before the end.

Dan Frost is not an old man, but endows his physicality with the creaky weight of age. This is simply cast off, like his glasses, when he gleefully reflects on his art school days in Paris. Frost’s vocal rhythm is quick and short, forcing the audience to really listen to and process Elks’ script. Frost is complimented by the dulcet tones of George Haynes as the Radio. 

Botallack O’Clock is, in essence, a simple conversation between a man and his subconscious but Elks’ creativity and skill makes it seem like more than that.  There are some delightful surprises along the way and a range of styles are used to examine our intimate relationships with our work, our possessions and our inevitable deaths – a thoughtful, reflective piece is thinly veiled under the humour and Frost’s abrupt delivery. Though we empathise with Roger throughout, all of us are alone in our twilight years, and we are the sole leading players in our own narratives.

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.