The Archive of Educated Hearts, VAULT Festival

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by Emma Lamond

The Archive of Educated Hearts shows a steely determination to deliver a hopeful and uplifting whirlwind tour through the lives of four women affected by breast cancer.  Casey Jay Andrews presents this deeply personal, yet painfully universal, experience with the utmost kindness and calm. This provides the audience with a space to celebrate the women who make up the narrative of the piece, and also take time to reflect on their own experiences of cancer.

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Blackout, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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by Laura Kressly

Pissing from tall buildings, pulling strangers, waking up somewhere you don’t remember – these are the hallmarks of an absolutely banging night out for some people. But when outrageous behaviour at the weekends starts creeping into the week, then every day, this is a problem.

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Fox Hunting, Courtyard Theatre

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by guest critic Amy Toledano

A fox runs into the road and forces the driver coming towards it to swerve and almost crash. Is it the fox’s fault if the person dies, or does it matter if the driver runs the fox over to save themselves? Which life is worth more? And if you grow up in South London should you be punished for carrying a knife to protect yourself? Or if you stab someone as self-defense is it still a crime? This complex and delicate issue is handled beautifully in David Alade’s Fox Hunting.

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Why Is the Sky Blue?, Southwark Playhouse

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by guest critic Amy Toledano

Why is the sky blue? What is there to do in Argentina? Why is the sea green? How regularly are young people in the UK and around the world watching pornography? And –  more importantly – what affect is it having on their sexual and mental development? These are just some of the questions raised in Abbey Wright’s brand new Why is the Sky Blue?

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The Listening Room, Stratford East

Can violent criminals be rehabilitated, and can their victims ever forgive them? The Listening Room says yes.

This verbatim piece tells the stories of three violent crimes, primarily from the perspective of the perpetrators. Some character background sets the scene for climactic moments where they commit their offences, but at least half of each of the five characters’ stories spotlights the rehabilitation process and mediation between the assailants and their victims.

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My Country; a work in progress, Theatre Royal Stratford East

After 52% of 72% of the British voting population voted to leave the EU, Rufus Norris’s concern that London theatre was out of touch with the majority of British people drove him to launch a nationwide project of listening. He sent a team of ‘gatherers’ to all corners of these sceptered isles, and they collected 70 interviews from people up and down the country. The transcriptions combined with text by Carol Ann Duffy gave birth to My Country; a work in progress.

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A Year From Now, VAULT Festival'sayearfromnow-courtesyofvickibaron_3.jpg

by guest critic Jo Trainor

“Two or three people with guitars call themselves a band, they’re a group!”

Red Belly Black Theatre Company asked fourteen people where they think they’ll be a year from now, and have used their voices to create an hour of witty, beautiful and moving theatre.

Lip-synced verbatim is a new experience for this reviewer, and if you’re not used to it there is a brief moment where you need to get on board with the style. Luckily Red Belly Black are so precise with their movements and mannerisms that it’s impossible not to love A Year From Now.

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Five Guys Chillin’, King’s Head Theatre“Netflix and chill” takes on new meaning in Five Guys Chillin’. Well, the “chill” part does, and is also substituted with “chill out”. Rather than awkward hetero teenagers using the word to arrange a sexual encounter, in this context it’s multiplied by whatever factor the host fancies to make a drug fuelled sex party, usually in someone’s home. The verbatim play, carved out of more than 50 hours of interview transcript, graphically details typical chill out behaviour as well as frank discussion of issues within the gay community. Despite many funny moments, some great staging, and the raising of important points, there is precious little plot; this makes the production more of a live interview with the questions omitted rather than a play that tells a story.

The performances are a mixed bag, and the script doesn’t support the actors by giving them many opportunities to respond. They speak in broken up monologues rather than dialoguing with each other; through they listen to what each other says, there is no natural conversation. It sounds rather fake and forced, because it is. Matthew Bunn’s J. is the notable exception, the hilarious host who loves drugs, but is unemployed and struggling with his HIV status. There are a couple of gorgeous sequences, by movement director Chris Cuming, that provide more atmosphere and characterisation than the script does; without showing explicit acts they express the drugged up, party vibe in the guys’ heads.

There’s a fair amount of gross-out humour, made all the more horrific by knowing that the events described actually happened at some point in real life. From drinking piss out of someone’s arse to having a preference for being pounded by gonorrhoea-ridden cocks because they’re self lubricating (#sorrynotsorry), there’s no shortage of bodily function nastiness. The predominantly male, and presumably gay, audience also find the descriptions repulsive. This is all balanced by serious talk about protection, STIs, drug addiction and the desperate search for intimacy within these casual encounters. Most culturally unique of the characters, Amrou Al-Kadhi plays character PJ of Pakistani decent who struggles to balance familial expectations with being an otherwise-out gay man. It’s a poignant reminder that people in this country still run the risk of being ostracised by their families because of their sexuality.

The confessional, eye-opening Five Guys Chillin’ is certainly a cultural experience for those not familiar with chill outs, but as a piece of theatre, the solely-verbatim script is a let down. Not that it doesn’t have some great moments, but a lack of dramatic arc and dialogue cobbled together from material that was originally solo doesn’t hold up for over an hour.

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