Brown Boys Swim, Soho Theatre

by Laura Kressly

Little can get in the way of teenagers’ hormones. In Kash and Mohsen’s case, the fact they can’t swim isn’t going to stop them going to the biggest event of the year, Jess Denver’s pool party. They’ll simply learn how so they don’t embarrass themselves in front of their entire year group. After all, Kash needs to flaunt his gains in front of the girls, and Mohsen will provide reluctant moral support. With a whole month to go, surely they can figure it out. Swimming’s not that hard, right?

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No Particular Order, Theatre503

by Laura Kressly

An Optimist’s Take

Children’s TV performer Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Though horrific events drive Joel Tan’s eon-spanning play, it celebrates those who get us through the worst of times.

Four actors (Jules Chan, Pandora Colin, Pía Laborde-Noguez, and Daniel York Loh) play what feels like dozens of characters across multiple cities, nations and worlds over more than 300 years. The people we meet in each self-contained scene of the episodic script are unrelated to all the others; instead they are brought together by survivorship and hope. The cumulative effect of these people and their experiences is one where they blur into each other regardless of when and where their scenes unfold, but this doesn’t matter. It also tests the limits of each actor’s range with varying results – some characters aren’t particularly distinct. However, what resonates is that humanity keeps going because of its drive to look after each other.

Ingrid Hu’s set design is simple, but soft and timeless. White and black cloth forms a textured back wall and a pillowy, cloud-like ceiling that gently holds the cast of four. The transitions between each scene are clearly signalled with lighting and sound motifs. Their predictability is somewhat comforting because we know that despite the horrible things the characters experience in any given moment, their lives will eventually improve.

Though it would be great to have more time with some of these characters and see how their stories unfold, by the end the human race-wide perseverance serves as a reminder that we are more powerful as a collective rather than individuals during times of adversity. Though this is an intimate staging with a small cast, it is boundless in its esteem for humanity.

A Pessimist’s Reflection

An eternal truism of the human race is that we are and forever will be awful to each other. In Joel Tan’s eon-spanning play, which is essentially a collage of short scenes both on our planet and beyond, his vast collection of characters inhabits times and places where war, dictatorship and violence shape their lives.

The cast of four (Jules Chan, Pandora Colin, Pía Laborde-Noguez, and Daniel York Loh) play what feels like dozens of characters across multiple cities, nations and worlds over more than 300 years. The people we meet in each self-contained scene of the episodic script are unrelated to all the others; instead they are brought together by shared horrific circumstances. The overarching effect is one of the never-ending despair and suffering that shape the human condition. There are no meaningless platitudes about things eventually looking up or rose-tinted views of the real world; instead we are reassured that our individual pain is real, but shared. Everyone is going through it, and always will be.

Designer Ingrid Hu uses drapes of plain black and white cloth to lower the theatre’s ceiling and line its walls. The neutral colours and pillowy shapes dampen the sound and create a timeless claustrophobia from which the cast cannot escape. The stark palate evokes the good-evil binary that shapes each of these people’s existence. Militaristic sound effects underpin each transition and relentlessly propel time forward.

Though it would be great to have more time with some of these characters to see how their stories unfold, by the end of the play the relentless conflict between groups of people (and other creatures) remind us that ultimately, most of us have little to no power within society’s hierarchies. However, we must keep going despite the injustice we endure because this is what really makes us human. Though this is an intimate production with many moments of care, Tan’s play is an epic reminder that people never change and we must simply do our best to carry on.

No Particular Order runs through 18 June.

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The Brief Life and Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria: Part The First, VAULT Festival

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By Zahid Fayyaz

Here’s a slice of history from Out of the Forest Theatre, set during World War Two. It follows the story of King Boris the Third, who allied with Nazi Germany for geopolitical reasons, but wanted to keep Bulgaria out of the fighting and his Jewish citizens safe as much as possible. This story is told with the use of dramatic recreations of what we are told are true events, with Bulgarian Folk tunes peppered throughout the performance.

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Over My Dad’s Body, VAULT Festival

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by Isabel Becker

What starts off as a razzle-dazzle cabaret musical, full of mockery of his ever-so-gay charm, darling, and name-in-lights showbiz dreams, Simon David’s play soon becomes a deeply personal meditation on life, death and art, often jutting between extremes before we even know it.

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The Show in Which Hopefully Nothing Happens, Unicorn Theatre

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By Laura Kressly

For a show in which hopefully nothing happens, there are plenty of weird and wonderful things that unfold, of course. Because a children’s show – or one for adults for that matter – would be incredibly dull indeed if nothing happened, but that’s absolutely not a worry here. 

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Paper Cinema’s Macbeth, Battersea Arts Centre

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By Laura Kressly

I’m a sucker for inventive adaptations of Shakespeare plays, so Paper Cinema’s Macbeth, a live-action, silent movie version, is hugely appealing. For 90 minutes a team of five use handheld cameras, desk lamps and hand-drawn illustrations to broadcast the story in visual form onto a large screen. Accompanied by a Celtic-inspired, cinematic score, this graphic novel/stop motion/object manipulation telling is enchanting – until I ask my companion, a Dutch woman who doesn’t know Macbeth, what she thought. 

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A Kettle of Fish, Yard Theatre

by Helen Murray

By Laura Kressly

Lisa is on a work trip with two colleagues. Things at home are a bit stressful and she normally isn’t included at this level of project management, but she’s fine. Not long into the flight, an attendant asks to have a word with her at the front of the plane. The devastating news she receives sets off a chain reaction of grief, anger and meltdowns. As Lisa tries to hold it together in front of the other passengers, reality slips from her grasp. 

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Othello, Shakespeare’s Globe

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By Laura Kressly

Who knew one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies could be funny? Director and composer Claire van Kampen has tapped into a rare rhythm that sees Iago as a weaselly, clownish man lacking power and finesse, yet still manages to twist Othello into knots. Played by Mark Rylance, one of the finest actors of his generation, his performance is the strongest feature of this production.

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As You Like It & Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Globe

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It would be so much fun to be part of Michelle Terry’s ensemble cast that performs both Hamlet and As You Like It to open this year’s season and her tenure as artistic director. They’re having a great time in what are something of a return to the Rylance era of the actor-manager, but uneven pacing and a smattering of interesting but disconnected choices lead to a lack of cohesion that indicates a lack directorial voice.

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