Again, Trafalgar Studios

by an anonymous guest critic

Stephanie Jacob’s new play Again could be a traditional comedy-drama about the trials and tribulations of a family. However, Jacobs employs a clever dramaturgical device as well as using flashbacks in order to tell this story of a family of four.

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The Red Lion, Trafalgar Studios,trafalgarstudios-deanboneandstephentompkinson(courtesyofmarkdouet).jpg

I have no interest in football, or any other sports for that matter. It’s not for lack of trying, what with growing up in a middle America that reveres sporting ability above all else. So I approach plays about football with caution, wary that my prejudices could sway my judgement. Fortunately, the tempestuous story of two ideologically opposed, minor league football men and the young player caught between them has little to do with the actual game and has a compelling, emotional narrative.

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Disco Pigs, Trafalgar Studios

by guest critic Simona Negretto

In 1997 Edna Walsh’s Disco Pigs hit the world with the story of an intoxicating and obsessive friendship between two teenagers, Runt and Pig, and their crazy, oneiric, visionary night out. Today, to celebrate its 20th anniversary, Tara Finney reprises the play in a vivid production permeated by the bittersweet taste of nostalgia.

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BU21, Trafalgar Studios
by guest critic Archie Whyld

The premise of an airliner exploding over Fulham after being hit with a Russian man-portable infrared surface-to- air missile, or as intense Londoner, Graham, who was caught up in the aftermath puts it, ‘it looks you know, like a bazooka…’, in a terrorist attack is extremely compelling. Compelling, because it could happen.

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Rotterdam, Trafalgar Studios

No one stays long in Rotterdam. Boats, goods and people are always on the move in and out of the Dutch port city. Alice is an exception, an English immigrant whose ship washed ashore seven years ago and never took to sea again. She doesn’t like the city, but neither does she want to leave. Her ex-boyfriend Josh came with her, but after meeting his sister Fiona, Alice realised she was gay and left Josh for Fi. The women set up home in Rotterdam, couched in comfortable, domestic bliss for the last several years. Now a few nights before New Year’s Eve, Alice agonises over a coming out email to her parents back home. As she’s about to click send, Fi has her own coming out – she’s not a gay woman, she’s a man called Adrian trapped in a woman’s body.

Alice’s secure life begins to come loose from its moorings as she tries to support Adrian’s transition. Her brave face can only hold up for so long as she is left in his wake in Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam. The fragility of their relationship is much more moving than any televised exposé for the masses. Even though some scenes are a touch overwritten, the ebb and flow of this delicate situation is exquisitely captured.

Brittain’s use of perfectly balanced perspectives makes it impossible to take sides as Adrian and Alice’s issues become increasingly at odds – a commendable decision that’s difficult to execute in writing. Both are inherently self-absorbed, and both have genuine grievances with the other. The nuance in the storyline lies in their interactions, and two minor characters provide a wider view of their microcosm that feels devastatingly huge. All four characters have quietly powerful speeches and moments where they try to understand each other despite their needs being at odds with someone else’s experience. These characters are wonderfully flawed humans trying their best to navigate an unfamiliar situation; Brittain’s ability to foster audience empathy through their spectrum of emotions and occasional bad behaviour is spot on.

Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine as Alice and Fi/Adrian are phenomenal. Jessica Clark is Lelani, Alice’s much younger, distracting lesbian colleague full of energy, life and good intentions. Ed Eales-White as Josh has a lovely, quiet patience and dogged determination to stick by the couple even though he had been hurt so badly all those years ago.

Though some moments are a bit overly explanatory about family relationships and trans experience, they are easily forgiven in light of the fully believable characters. Though this isn’t an “awareness” piece per say, the humanity and insight into transgender transition Rotterdam provides is hugely important and valuable.

Rotterdam runs through 27th July.

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.


The Wasp, Trafalgar Studios


Hampstead Theatre does it again with another powerful, thought-provoking transfer after last month’s Four Minutes Twelve Seconds. Heather and Carla went to secondary school together about 20 years ago, live in the same town, but have little else in common. Heather comes from a stable, middle class family, is now married and lives quite comfortably. Carla is working poor, pregnant with her fifth child, and has a drunkard for a husband. Both had a terrible time in high school: Carla came from an abusive home, and Heather became one of a Carla’s targets after a brief friendship in year 7. They haven’t seen each other since school, but out of the blue, Heather asks Carla for coffee and makes her a surprising offer in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s both horrifying and enthralling The Wasp.

Myanna Buring as Carla and Laura Donnelly as Heather are an electric pair, as they should be in this relentless two-hander with sudden plot twists that keep the audience guessing. Their characters’ contrast naturally creates tension anyway, and the story generates even more. Most of the play is a hotbed of tension. The layers of lies and manipulation and abrupt reveals are surprising; there are audible gasps from the audience at certain key moments. The script has a fairly formulaic structure, but it’s the content that surprises. Albee’s Zoo Story, Miller’s The Crucible and most of LaBute’s work appear to influence. The characters’ behaviour is shocking, but the realisation that this could be anyone we know, or ourselves, uncomfortably resonates within.

Though there are a lot of big social and psychological issues presented: revenge, infidelity, class difference, abuse, rape and infertility. It doesn’t feel excessive to conflate them, but aids in creating complex characters that feel like genuine people backed up by Buring and Donnelly’s performances. This toxic cocktail of topics emphasises just how easy it is to cause lasting emotional damage in someone unintentionally, be it a family member, friend, partner or acquaintance. Kids especially: we all had tough times at school and treated each other badly but children are so self-absorbed (the ability to empathise is the last part of the human brain to develop) that they don’t often realize the consequences of their actions. And this is why each and every one of us is the hot mess we are, because of how we were treated by others when we were younger. It doesn’t take much more on top of all the baggage we already carry to send us over the edge, and that message resounds loud and clear through the women’s past and present actions that slowly unravel in the intimate Trafalgar 2.

David Woodhead’s set similarly beds in the horror of the characters’ actions. Benign, commonplace objects become aids for capture in his construction that emulates life. There’s an overly lengthy set change, but the transformation from outside a dingy café to Heather’s sitting room is as big a difference as the two women are to each other. The detail and naturalistic design make the story feel all the more like real life, an effective and powerful choice when simplicity and abstraction are the more common styles.

The Wasp presents the capacity for evil within each of us whilst challenging social stereotypes and making powerful comment on how we treat our fellow human beings. Outstandingly committed performances endowed with energy and high emotion and Lloyd Malcolm’s script create a disturbing landscape, disguised in the routine of day to day life, that can be revealed in a moment.

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.

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, Trafalgar Studios

rsz_four_minutes_twelve_seconds_-_kate_maravan_2_-_photo_ikin_yumWhat do you do if your teenaged son’s ex-girlfriend accuses him of sexual assault? What if her family refuses to go to the police and takes justice into their own hands instead? Di (Kate Maravan) and David (Jonathan McGuinness) don’t know either, and they’re living this nightmare every moment of Four Minutes Twelve Seconds. They have huge aspirations for their bright boy, hoping he makes it out of the Croydon that they themselves never managed to leave. But those dreams are teetering precariously on top of vicious rumours…or are they facts? Seventeen-year-old Jack who the audience never sees, may or may not have uploaded a film, that may or may not show him forcing himself on his girlfriend Cara (Ria Zmitrowicz) in the run-up to his A-level exams. As his parents try to discover the objective truth of the situation, some awful discoveries come to light. In short, fast scenes spanning several months, social class, parental aspiration and sexism influence the four characters’ choices in this riveting, dialogue-driven one-act.

This energetic first play by James Fritz, writer of the acclaimed Ross & Rachel at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, doesn’t shy away from honest, infuriating material confronting ingrained attitudes that interfere with rape convictions (at the end of the play I was so angry I was shaking with the knowledge that these sorts of things probably happen all the time). A ferocious Maravan leads with an intense, focused performance and a satisfying character journey. To see a mother cope with drastically altering perceptions of her own child is heart rending, particularly as her husband’s views often clash with her own.

This is definitely an “issue” play, albeit a sophisticated one, that looks at the role of social media and the selfie culture in the lives of young people who don’t fully understand the implications of putting every detail of their life on the internet. It also looks at consent, sexist definitions of rape and how police view rape accusations. There’s also the question of how to treat crimes committed within one’s own family, vigilante justice and taking responsibility for mistakes. It’s a packed script, but manages to not overwhelm with ideas. Fritz’s dialogue is advanced for a first play, if formulaic in its gradual revealing of information. He liberally uses humour and nuanced humanity to counter the dark subject matter; these characters could easily be portrayed as stereotypes, like the sort in a bad TIE play.

On that note, this would be an excellent production to tour to secondary schools, colleges and unis, particularly since this attitude is so prevalent:, this is a crucial piece of theatre that all young people growing up in our cyber-obsessed culture should see. With simple design elements that draw attention to the dialogue and story, it would be easy to tour this powerful production.

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is hip as well as topical and provocative. Witholding Jack’s appearance draws attention to the wider impact of his actions rather than wallowing in his emotional state, a wise choice by Fritz. Excellent performances by the company and snappy dialogue keep our attention as well as enrage, but what would we do if we were in Di and David’s shoes? Though we all strive for justice for rape victims, we are but judgemental, selfish humans after all, and that is the real flaw in the system.

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 PayPal.

As Is, Trafalgar Studios

As Is, Bevan Celestine, Natalie Burt, Steven Webb & Russel Morton,Trafalgar Studios, 1 July - 1 August 2015. Courtesy Scott Rylander-022The AIDS play of my generation was Rent. I saw the original cast on Broadway when I was 15 or 16 and felt a strong bond with the characters that weren’t much older than me. By that age, my peers and I had the fear of AIDS drilled into us over several years of sex education. It was still a death sentence then, but treatment was available and quality of life was improving. We knew the history of the disease, though. We knew how it exploded into the gay community, then spread to everyone else. We knew how many people died, and how horribly. We knew that no one was safe.

In 1985, the first AIDS play, As Is was staged in New York City. The AIDS epidemic is ravaging the city, particularly the gay community. As the disease spreads and people die, fear mounts. Diagnosis is a death sentence. Oblivious in the New York City suburbs, I was 3 years old.

Now I’m 33, and this is the 30th anniversary production of As Is. AIDS is still here, and the number of AIDS cases is rising. The fear isn’t so strong any more due to advances in medicine; it’s certainly not something on my radar like it was when I was a child. People are forgetting the disease’s history and the impact it had only a few decades ago because it’s now possible to lead a full life with medication and early diagnosis. That’s why staging As Is, a production that captures the desperation and rising panic of the generation first exposed to AIDS, is crucial. Though dated, it is a vital depiction of an era of social history that must be remembered, but does so with humour, humanity and a fantastic cast.

Centered around recent exes Rich (Steven Webb) and Saul (David Poyner) who initially meet to divide up their belongings, their world suddenly alters after Rich confesses he has “it.” The story becomes a detailed and intimate journey of a man struggling to come to terms with his illness, and his ex-boyfriend’s obsessive urge to care for him. Six other actors play a variety of characters associated with Rich and Saul’s life ranging from drug dealers, to family, to medical staff. Some of the best supporting characters include Natalie Burt as best friend Lily and older hospice worker Jane Lowe. Performances are excellently committed across the board, capturing the microcosmic struggle of a disease that has affected millions since it first appeared. The only performance issue is the over-egged accents. People from the New York City area haven’t spoken with accents that stereotypical for a long time, but this is not something a non-American is likely to notice.

Written by William M. Hoffman, the dialogue races through a gamut of emotions, evoking belly laughs one moment and tears the next. Without the regular levity, the script would be entirely too depressing, and proves the necessity of laughter when coping with personal trauma. Even though the humour is ever present, so is fear. The script walks a fine line that wavers between the two, and every other emotion associated with the devastation of an AIDS diagnosis. Particularly evocative scenes include Rich nihilistically on the pull in a nightclub shortly after learning of his condition, a support group of mostly gay men with the striking presence of a pregnant woman who’s husband infected her, and Rich’s first hospital stay with Saul devotedly by his side.

The costumes are distinctly early 1980s, and the simple, versatile set of lockers, chairs and pipes captures the industrial dinginess of New York City that is still present today. The design contrasts the script, a montage of fast-paced, overlapping scenes and a frantic depiction of fear and desperation that is sweeping the city.

Trafalgar Studios 2 is an intimate venue, perfect for the immensely personal journeys depicted in the play. The actors boldly interact with the audience, atypical of naturalism. This allows the audience to feel embedded in their world and reminds us that AIDS can affect all of us. Even though it is a lovely experience to see this play in a small venue, it definitely deserves larger audiences and would be able to fill a bigger stage.

As Is perfectly balances humour and seriousness to remind audiences that AIDS is still here and has the power to irrevocably alter lives, despite medical care. It accurately evokes a fearful time that I remember in flashes of news broadcasts, interviews and health classes. Stunning, fearless performances and a great script capture a unique moment in American history, but one that has left an indelible mark on global society. We are reminded that Rich’s “it” could still happen to any of us.

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.