Tank, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Like their debut production The Beanfield, Breach Theatre’s second show Tank recreates a contentious historical event in a distinctive meta-theatrical mashup of forms and styles.

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Five Guys Chillin’, King’s Head Theatre

https://i0.wp.com/www.ayoungertheatre.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/5-Guys-Chillin.jpg“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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Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 13 August: Part Two

Camilla Whitehill’s Where Do Little Birds Go? tells the true story of Lisa Prescott, an 18-year-old nightclub hostess kidnapped by the Kray twins in 1966. Re-named Lucy Fuller, Jessica Butcher tells Prescott’s story through this harrowing solo performance. Humour and music are used to break up the horror of Fuller’s imprisonment with an escaped murderer who rapes her for hours on end, but some of the music transitions feel forced. Lucy loves singing; Butcher shares this love with gusto. She also wonderfully and ever so slowly transitions from the bright eyed, bushy tailed girl from Hastings who moved to London with hopes, dreams and £5 in her pocket, to a quietly streetwise, mature young woman.

Whitehill’s script contains some witty one-liners but doesn’t shy away from graphic incidents, like Lucy adventures as a nightclub hostess who offers “afters” to her best clients, and her experiences at the hands of the Krays. Justin Nardella’s set is Winston’s, the Mayfair club where Lucy worked before her capture and after her release. It cleverly uses sturdy levels to break up Fuller’s movements, but some of director Sarah Meadows’ blocking feels arbitrary. Meadows does have a good sense of storytelling, but struggles with the script’s abrupt ending. The audience never learns the how Lucy regained her freedom, though Butcher’s excellent performance draws attention away from this issue. Overall, this is a good offering from Duckdown Theatre and Heavy Weather Theatre that with further script development could be an excellent play.

https://i2.wp.com/lovelettershome.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Love-Letters-Summerhall.jpgMy last production of the day is Katharine Rose Williams Radojičić’s Love Letters to the Home Office, which receives a one-off table reading at Summerhall. This is one of the most important plays of contemporary British theatre. Not because of innovation or style, but content: it exposes the consequences of the 2012 Home Office legislation that breaches the human rights of an estimated 50,000 families in the UK.

This new ruling states that in order for a UK citizen to bring their non-European spouse into the country, the UK partner must earn a minimum of £18,600 a year or have £62,500 in savings. With travel and technology connecting people unlike that in past generations, couples forming from all corners of the globe are becoming more and more common. The income requirement discriminates against the working poor, though. It means that if the UK partner earns the minimum wage, they must work 60 hours a week. People who work in many jobs vital to UK societal function would not be able to living in the UK with their non-EEA partners. Such roles include teaching assistants, cleaners, caretakers, administrators, technicians, support workers, receptionists, and so on. The non-EEA partner’s income and savings are not considered in the application. Basically, if you are poor, you better fall in love with someone that is a European citizen or you will not be able to live together as a married couple unless you leave the UK.

Love Letters to the Home Office uses verbatim theatre from real-life people affected by this ruling. It is a politically charged play with a clear agenda: to spread the word about this home-wrecking Tory ruling. The stories are heart rending. A little boy stranded with his mum in America calls his Samsung tablet Dada. A single mum who can’t earn the required income because she is caring for her daughter must wait until her daughter’s old enough to go to school before increasing her working hours. A woman from the Philippines is unable to attend her husband’s funeral in the UK because her visa application had been rejected. These stories go on and on. There’s also a lot of factual information in the script that quotes from government legislation and academic studies amongst the actual stories. I struggle to imagine a dynamic staging and want to hear more first-hand accounts, but the script content is still hugely powerful and a motivational call to action.

The programme contains advice on how to engage politically if you are moved to act. It also has links to the project’s website, with many more accounts from people affected by this law. The website also allows for contributions, which opens the play to potential of constant change. The script could alter with every performance in order to provide a voice for these oppressed people who did nothing more than fall in love with a non-European whilst earning less than £18,600 a year.


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Do We Do the Right Thing?, everything theatre

“…Having read the programme whilst waiting to enter the theatre, I looked out for the actors’ earpieces.

“This performance relies on a form of verbatim theatre called, “recorded delivery.” The programme explains this is when, “recordings of the actual interview are played to the actors in earpieces on stage during the performance. Rather than learning lines, the actors respond to the material during the performance and retell their interviewees’ stories word-by-word and breath-by-breath.”…

“The structure of the play consists of fragments of interviews with people affected by war, past and present. It also hears from some people who live in Wootton Bassett…The problem here was that the individual stories had scope for an excellent narrative on their own, but the numerous excerpts did not allow for any of the characters to have a substantial journey…

“The main issue with this play is that it tries to say too much and in doing so, says very little. Author Neil Walker writes this is, “a play which raises the broader issues about acts of remembrance, the public’s relationship with the military and war, father-son relationships and individual identity. The play poses important questions about the ripple effect of loss through military conflict and what happens post-2014…” A one-act play needs only to examine one of these themes…”

Read the entire review on everything theatre here.