Albatross, Gate Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

There aren’t many writers who conjure stories the way Isley Lynn can. Her innate instinct for achingly human characters in situations rarely – if ever – seen on stage sets her well apart from most young playwrights. Her oeuvre includes Skin a Cat, a hilarious and necessary story of a young woman navigating dating and sex whilst unable to be vaginally penetrated, and Tether, the journey of a blind woman and her guide training for a marathon. These intimate stories leave a huge impact when set on stage, their echoes long reverberating with her audiences.

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Nest, VAULT Festival

by an anonymous guest critic

Nest is a beautiful two-hander by Katy Warner, which was understandably shortlisted for Theatre503’s playwriting award. Travelling through an unconventional, council-estate couple’s journey, the play invites the audience into snippets of their relationship, through a series of non-chronological scenes.

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Trashed, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Amy Toledano

Trashed is a high energy, thrilling and heartbreaking show that has the audience hooked from beginning to end. David William Byran plays Keith – a rubbish collector from a working class community in the UK. Throughout, Keith is engaging with the audience, asking questions and offering some of his beer, which he drinks continuously throughout the piece.

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FCUK’D, The Bunker

Will Mytum in FCUK'D. Photo: Andreas Lambis

A young man waits impatiently for his little brother Matty to finish school. Alone on a football pitch amongst piles of dead leaves, he frets over his alcoholic mum, the state of their home and the letter from social services informing them that Matty will be taken away.

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The End of Hope, Soho Theatre

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a co-production with the Orange Tree Theatre

You only find round beds with pink satin sheets in particular places or owned by particular people. But it’s safe to say that a woman wearing a full, fur-suited mouse costume complete with face/head mask is not one of these.

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Part of the Picture, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Peppered across the North Sea, giant metal birds stretch towards the sky and drill into the seabed below, hunting for life-giving oils and gasses. Along their wide bellies, men work day and night to keep them moving in dangerous, dirty conditions. The money’s good, and the work is plentiful.

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Box Clever, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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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.

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Girl From the North Country, Old Vic

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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.

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An Inspector Calls, Playhouse Theatre

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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

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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.