Does My Bomb Look Big in This?, Soho Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

Aisha and Morgan have to go to school one day in August, like almost every other 16-year-old in the country, to collect their GCSE results. Their school is different from the rest of the country’s though – news teams are at the gates of Mitcham High reporting on the recent disappearance of Yasmin Sheikh, dubbed ‘terror baby’ by the Home Secretary. Frustrated with her best friend’s depiction in the media and the way she has been treated by the police after Yasmin left for Syria, Aisha is determined to tell the story of the girl behind the headlines and enlists Morgan’s help.

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Interview | ‘All roads lead to Tim Webb’: Peg Schuler-Armstrong on working with Oily Cart

by guest writer Steven Strauss

New York’s Lincoln Center invited UK-based Oily Cart to be one of three theatres from outside the US to perform at the Big Umbrella Festival, the first of its kind dedicated to such audiences.

In addition to Oily Cart’s Light Show, the one-month festival includes other one-off events, symposiums, and professional development opportunities for artists, arts professionals, presenters, and audience members interested in expanding the theatrical spotlight on this shamefully under-served community.

Simply put, major theatres around the world should really be funding such festivals all the time. To find out more about the process of bringing the Big Umbrella Festival to life, we interviewed Peg Schuler-Armstrong, the Director of Programming and Production for Lincoln Center Education, the organizers of the festival.

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The Ruff Guide to Shakespeare, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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There’s a good amount of Shakespeare-based work for children and young people at the fringe, which is a great way to introduce children to his work as well as give theatre makers a chance to experiment with different styles when approaching the bard’s text. The Ruff Guide to Shakespeare is a mashup of his most popular plays and characters with a biography of his life. There’s a lot packed into an hour, perhaps too much for the primary school middle years that are the target audience age. The show is otherwise well written, well performed and the story line constructed out of Shakespeare’s life gives it a solid grounding on which to sample extracts of his work.

Six Bristol Old Vic students perform Toby Hulse’s script. Though there isn’t a weak link amongst the cast, the strongest by far is Georgia Frost. She has a charisma and stage presence that the others lack, though they all show promise. The company handles their verse well, maintains high energy and warmly encourage the audience of children to join in.

The script is quick and punchy, most valuable for giving the young audience context about Shakespeare as a person in a easily digestible format framed by his “seven ages of man” monologue – a fantastic idea that parallels a short piece of text to a story. There are gags, games and songs that are interactive and playful, though more time could be taken within each activity in order to allow the audience to engage fully. The characters and scenes that are included are some of the most well known, kept short and explained well. There are a lot of them though, and the sheer amount is potentially overwhelming for the younger children in the audience.

Comparable to the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), this is a jolly, friendly romp through Shakespeare’s life and works that’s great for a young audience. Some tweaking to either cut some of the characters or pitch it to slightly older children would make this an even stronger piece, but it’s polished, slick and jolly good fun compared to similar shows on offer.

The Ruff Guide to Shakespeare runs through 19th August.

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The Tempest, Bloomsbury Festival

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By a guest reviewer who wishes to remain anonymous:

This adaptation of The Tempest by Kelly Hunter was a one-off performance as part of the Bloomsbury Festival at the Bloomsbury Studio Theatre. Hunter specifically designed this piece to enable children on the autism spectrum to participate in the show with the actors. These children’s parents/carers are invited to sit and watch.

I think this was the most unique Shakespeare productions I’ve seen. Hunter and her excellent cast of six set themselves the challenge of using The Tempest as a means of interacting and helping several young people on the autism spectrum to improve their self expression and communication with each other. Initially, I was uncertain how this would work as, personally, I’ve always found the Tempest a tricky play to follow. As the story progressed I saw that The Tempest actually lends itself perfectly to this kind of devised, interactive theatre. The play of course deals in magic; there’s also a clear physicality to many of the characters and a certain playfulness which allows the actors to introduce the young participants to the world of the play. This was not a full production of the Tempest and nor did it need to be. Considering its aims, the production was undoubtedly a huge success. All of the participants seemed to benefit hugely from playing simplified versions of various scenes from the play with these very experienced stage actors. More importantly they, along with the parents and carers watching, seemed to really enjoy themselves. When the play ended there was a lovely, warm feeling in the room. Everyone seemed enlivened by the experience, adults and children alike.

I sincerely hope that Flute Theatre will continue its success producing this kind of work in the future. It is extremely important and valuable to non-traditional theatregoers.


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Rise Up, Theatre Centre

Kimisha Lewis in Rise UpMay, 1961. The American south. Segregation has been ruled unconstitutional, but southern states ignore the legislation and the federal government does nothing to enforce it. Activists of all ages and races, sponsored by civil rights organizations, challenge this non-enforcement on public transport and customer services by sending groups of riders, black and white, on interstate bus journeys from Washington DC to New Orleans.

They never get to New Orleans. Over the next several months, in Alabama and Mississippi one bus after another is brutally attacked. The activists, who believe in passive protest, are terribly injured and eventually arrested. President Kennedy, embarrassed by their actions on an international level, urges them to stop but they continue to fight for equality. Rise Up by Lisa Evans uses spoken word, storytelling and multi-rolling to inspire young people to fight for equality in their everyday lives and pay homage to these brave people fighting for justice. A cast of four actor-storytellers with boundless energy plays all the characters with minimal set and props, inciting enthusiasm from both adults and young people alike.

Three metal panels on wheels are the old silver Greyhound buses. A few matching metal stools cleverly create bus seats, jail cells, shop counters and so on. Actors Emma Dennis-Edwards, Sam Kacher, Kimisha Lewis and Edward Nkom set the scenes with an array of accents and physicalities under their belts, plus a few hats and small props to help. The audience consisting mostly of children from the local girls’ school immediately warm to them, both during the production and the post-show “revolution”.

The script is narration-heavy, perhaps too much so, but these monologues feature sections of poetry delivered with a hint of spoken word, but not so much so that the performance style changes and does a disservice to production style continuity. Though more showing than telling would have been welcome, the incidents described are quite graphic and not appropriate to vividly show to school children. This isn’t a particularly visual show, so the students’ attention is a testament to the script and performers’ strength.

Theatre for young people continues to develop in leaps and bounds, creating rich stories and detailed characterization that can appeal to all ages. Rise Up is an example of this, telling a clear story that although set in another era and country, manages to relate to the lives of contemporary young people in Britain feeling the effects of inequality. The staging is simple as is the design, but this serves to focus the audience’s attention on Evans’ excellent script.


The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.

Killed: July 17th, 1916 for everything theatre

“…On first impressions, the superior set evoked the patriotic idealism of small town England at the start of WWI. It was so well-designed and well made by the talented Dave Benson, that it would easily have been at home on West End stage…

“The play uses a non-linear structure to tell the story of Billy Dean, a volunteer solider from Bradford, sentenced for cowardice in the face of the enemy…The best element of this production is the script and story…Even though the ending is rather abrupt, to alter it would take away from the harsh circumstances.

“The performances are good, but not outstanding. This is mostly because the characters were written without a great deal of depth but they still suit the story as they are…

“The costumes were of a high calibre for fringe theatre…costume designer Lorena Sanchez’ creative talent certainly shined through. Sound designer Max Thompson’s relentless bomb blasts during scene transitions became predictable…We certainly never forgot the world of the play was amidst the front lines of WWI.

“This is a story that definitely needs to be performed again. Director Elizabeth Elstub handled it clearly and simply, without any complex directing trickery…”

Read the entire review on everything theatre here.