Box Clever, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DF1QLy8XsAEOun3.jpg

Marnie’s a 22-year-old single mum from Bermondsey and every day is a fight at the moment. Her mum’s harbouring Marnie’s abusive ex, the guy she’s in love with has a new bird who’s using the legal system to keep them apart and her daughter’s dad isn’t around. Marnie currently lives in a woman’s refuge and the shadow of social services is hanging over her.

Continue reading

Girl From the North Country, Old Vic

https://cdn.thestage.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/26173504/Girl-From-The-North-Country-Old-Vic--700x455.jpg

In Duluth, Minnesota, ships, trains and buses come and go under a sweeping midwestern sky heavy with snow. It’s 1934, the height of the Great Depression. A desperate, drifting populace chase the shadows of their debtors and rumours of work in and out of the port city.

Continue reading

An Inspector Calls, Playhouse Theatre

https://i0.wp.com/www.thegayuk.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/An_Inspector_Calls_at_the_Playhouse_Theatre_-Tabitha_Douglas_Ben_Burely_and_James_Hill_-_Photo_by_Mark_Douet-e1479067631695.jpg

Seventy years ago, J B Priestley’s thriller An Inspector Calls was first staged in the UK. Twenty-five years ago, Stephen Daldry’s acclaimed, progressive production opened at the National. His approach shook up the insular, drawing room script in order to highlight the selfish elitism of the middle and upper classes and has been regularly staged since 1992. Now, in a post-Brexit, post-Trump 2016 punctuated by hate crime, polarised political views and gaping social inequality, Daldry’s production about the death of a working class woman known to all members of a posh family still feels relevant. Though there are some clunky moments and miss-matched performance styles, the crusade for accountability and justice that drives the plot keeps this play firmly in the present within a stunning production concept.

Daldry’s interpretation manifests through Ian MacNeil’s design that takes much of the action out of the Birling family home and into the dark, wet street below. Copious fog and treacherous cobbles interfere with their joyous engagement celebrations and ruling class entitlement, endowing the inspector with more power as the Birlings are actually destabilised. The family and their guests are drawn out of the warm comfort of their stilted home that quickly becomes remote and inaccessible, and made to face the dirty secrets that Inspector Goole extracts from each of them in a landscape of damp despair. As their individual facades collapse, so does the home that protects and elevates them from the working classes, the people of the streets. Some of the set transitions are a bit mechanical, but it’s otherwise a powerful visual metaphor and one that’s excellently executed.

The cast’s performances are good, though there are a few different styles. Barbara Marten’s matriarchal Sybil Birling is comedically melodramatic, earning a laugh whenever she speaks. Considering the gravity of the play’s message, this is a strange choice and one that clashes with the largely naturalistic work from the rest. Liam Brennan is an excellent Inspector Goole, earthy and immoveable. Clive Francis is a somewhat frail Arthur Birling, though his vocal power and characterful rage keep him in constant battle with the inspector.

This visually striking production is still relevant what with Priestley’s attacks on the British class system and the casualness with which the upper classes and government treat the lives of the working class and those down at heel. The energy, pace and tension keep it from descending into stale playacting that dances around a real, serious problem and the high production values give it popular appeal and spectacle. With hope, its wide reach will have a big impact and remind audiences that the unseen, working girl in the play is the entire population of impoverished people in this country at the mercy of those with more financial power.

The Inspector Calls runs through 4 February.

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.

Exactly Like You, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

https://i2.wp.com/www.underbellyedinburgh.co.uk/images/made/images/uploads/1000w-x-640h-px_750_500_60_c1.jpg

Things have never been easy for Abby. She doesn’t get on with her mum, she’s didn’t do well in school, she drifts from one shitty job to another without any purpose or goals. She misses her Nana, with whom she would spend long hours writing fantastical stories and listening to music. Nina Simone was their favourite. In Exactly Like You, Lotte Rice tells Abby’s story through a moving, passionate spoken word monologue on losing her way and finding it again.

Rice’s way with words makes Abby funny and relatable, the sort of woman you could sit down with over a pint or a cup of tea and natter about all and sundry going on in the world. She would always have a story or an anecdote to share that would make you laugh or think, or both. Her decision to make Abby a working class, down-at-heel character so expressive and articulate through spoken word is a fantastic choice rather than catering to the stereotype of working class young people as grunting cokeheads who only live for nights out on the piss. The piece is punctuated with soulful renditions of Nina Simone’s songs, effectively breaking up the dense text. Though Abby’s story isn’t remarkable in itself, the mode of telling it is hugely refreshing.

Designer Elouise Farley and lighting designer Zanna Woodgate work together to create a landscape of glowing bookcases, the sort that fit vinyl records. Though simple and subtle, they capture the inner warmth of Abby’s Nana who lived for music of all sorts. They are her memories of her time with Nana, always present and always driving her forward, and a lovely addition that makes the piece feel more polished than a bare stage.

When Abby hits rock bottom after yet another night out drowning her painful memories with too much whiskey, an unexpected helping hand appears. Fortunately, this is not some benevolent, condescending force sent to save her. Abby’s journey is one of reflective self-discovery told in an engaging, lively format with fantastic music to boot.

Exactly Like You runs through 28th August.

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.

Ugly Lovely, Old Red Lion

rsz_ffion_jones_and_sophie_hughes_in_ugly_lovely_c_velvet_trumpet_1-1

It’s Shell’s 26th birthday and she’s not happy. Her boyfriend Carl is AWOL and probably banging Smelly Kelly, her nan died recently, and she wants to leave Wales for the big city of Liverpool. Her best mate Tash is trying to convince her to stay, but her reasons are far from convincing. Shell is miserable, frustrated and angry. She feels the pull of adventure, but the tug of the sea she knows so well is strong, too. Shell tries to decide what to do as best she can – chatting with the urn that holds her nan’s ashes, going out clubbing and leaving her son Kieran with her mum. Ugly Lovely snapshots down-at-heel but aspirational Swansea with well-rounded characters who are excellently performed within a promising script, but it has a somewhat unsatisfying resolution.

This is writer Ffion Jones’ first play, and as debuts go, it’s a a rather good one. She’s built a sound narrative structure, though some trimming wouldn’t go amiss. The plot isn’t complex enough to warrant the current length or the interval, though too much cutting would rush the climax and dénouement. She has written detailed, nuanced characters with emotional depth that rally the audience’s support, but this leads to disappointment when Shell ignores her ambitions. Jones has an aptitude for sharp dialogue and dark humour, and there are some brilliant comedic moments within the characters’ misery.

Jones plays Shell, endowing the character with emotional truth and lived experience. Sophie Hughes as her best friend Tash is her cheerful sidekick, maintaining a wonderful sense of optimism despite an abusive home life. Oliver Morgan-Thomas rounds out the cast as their laddish schoolmate Robyn who is also doing the best he can to get by, though isn’t the nicest of individuals. His introduction leads to a brutal conflict and adds variation to the individual scenes’ structures, and his rough charm brings a great energy to the dynamic created by the women.

Nikolai Ribnikov’s direction is smooth and instinctive, and Lizzy Leech’s set enhances the gritty naturalism of their day-to-day lives. There is an awkward park bench that doubles as a couch, and the exposed toilet sits unused and exposed in a corner for most of the play, but adds additional dinginess.

This is a great little play that is remarkably polished for a new writer; it shows much promise even though it could use some tweaking. Jones is clearly a skilled theatre maker, and the rest of the creative team serves her script excellently. Production company Velvet Trumpet did exceedingly well in choosing this script, and Jones is certainly one to watch as both an actor and writer.

Ugly Lovely runs through 16 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.