V + 15, VAULT Festival

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by Lizzie Jackson

The particularly dark and damp Cavern is a perfect location for V+15 what with its references to the trains passing overhead, as well as the mysterious, dystopian theme that runs throughout the play. Jo Sutherland’s writing is philosophical, political and fast-paced with twists and turns at every corner, and the direction from Sara Reimers is naturalistic and engaging, but a bit lacking in its ability to bring out the characters’ emotions. Whether this is down to the actors, the direction, or the script, it is hard to tell. It could be a combination of all three.

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Notch, VAULT Festival

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by Dora Bodrogi

CW: war, migration, mental health, homelessness

How do you cope when the promise of the West turns out to be a city in the midst of a housing crisis, and you’re only one pay check away from homelessness? A.A. (Danaja Wass) doesn’t really know.

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What the Dolls Saw, VAULT Festival

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by Laura Kressly

A master doll-maker has died, leaving behind a fractious and fragmented family. His widow is a nostalgic former actor, his eldest daughter Christine is a lesbian true-crime podcaster from his first marriage, middle daughter Zara is a petty criminal living in the US, and his youngest, Meg, is a children’s book author. As they gather for the funeral, Christine reminds them of their long-missing Aunt Lily, mum’s twin. Now that their tyrannical father is dead, it’s the perfect time to get to the bottom of her disappearance.

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Foul Pages, Hope Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

1603. Queen Elizabeth is dead, and James I is in power. Sir Walter Raleigh is imprisoned in the Tower for conspiring against the new king. His lover Mary pines for him in her stately home in Wiltshire, so she and her handmaid plot to secure the king’s favour by putting on a new play just for him, by Shakespeare’s company of players.

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The Nassim Plays, Bush Theatre

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An actor stands on stage. They are handed a script they have never read before. A frank look at suicide, choice and learned behaviour unfolds after a menagerie of animal impressions.

An actor stands on stage. They are handed a script they have never read before. An hour of hilarious and revealing Mad Libs ensues.

An actor stands on stage. They are handed a script they have never read before. It’s a recipe that the actor must prepare whilst reflecting on the cultural importance and ritual of food.

An actor stands on stage. On the screen behind them, a script is projected they have never read before. Then there’s a live feed, a language lesson and a tender reflection on the meaning of home.

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Blondel, Union Theatre

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I am often impressed with theatre’s ability to transform the most serious of topics into bouncy, chirpy musicals. Tim Rice and Tom Williams looked to the Crusades for their comedic tale of Richard I’s court musician, Blondel, but discarded much of the history. This 1983 show has some great numbers, but its frivolity and insubstantial book focusing on a personal journey rather than the larger political landscape is diminutive rather than powerfully sweeping. This is no Les Mis or Miss Saigon; it is instead an under-developed documentation of a rise to fame – but it still has its moments of fun.

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I Know You of Old, Hope Theatre

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Hero’s coffin lies in a candlelit chapel of rest, draped in lace, overlooked by a portrait of the virgin Mary. Her cousin Beatrice and her lover Claudio quietly mourn the young woman, but their friend Benedick disrupts their grief. The characters are from Much Ado About Nothing of course, but this is not Much Ado About Nothing. David Fairs rips apart Shakespeare’s script to create a totally new story with Shakespeare’s verse and characters, I Know You of Old.

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A Year From Now, VAULT Festival

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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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Monorogue: Elf Off, Old Red Lion Theatre

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The Salon:Collective’s Monorogue is back again, this time with a Christmas edition. The monologue showcase is now in Santa’s workshop, where perky elf Gingersparkles is interviewing human candidates for a vacancy in the Lapland workshop. Seven lacklustre individuals who can’t otherwise find seasonal employment are created and performed by Salon:Collective actors in this spunky, lighthearted show where the audience gets to vote for the best performer/character. Distinctive characters and good performances are the trademark of this regular event, and the framework around the monologues makes for more palatable viewing.

The set is a simple construction of heaps of brightly wrapped presents, Christmas decorations and toys. It’s easy, cheap and hugely effective in the intimate blackbox theatre. Though perhaps unintended, it is also a lovely juxtaposition to some of the more down-at-heel characters.

The performances are generally good, though some of the characters tend towards stereotypical and miss opportunities for nuance. The standouts are Lucy Gallagher and Louise Devlin’s intense Scottish tomboy Mae, and Angela Harvey’s struggling mum of five Hayley. Rachel Stoneley’s confused but sweet stripper, Jade, is a great way to wrap up the candidates. Laurie Stevens is the adorable Gingersparkles, but she surprises with a ferocious climax that wraps up the evening well.

The scripts have a strong lean towards comedy, which suits the time of year, but some of them lack depth and choose to mock personality traits rather than empathise. Whilst there is nothing overtly offensive and the stereotypes created are identifiable and relatable, there is room for more variation.

Monorogue proves again that they offer an entertaining event that allows actors and playwrights to showcase their talents without taking the more common, in your face approach to self-marketing usually found in showcases. The theme sets the actor/writers a challenge and gives the audiences a needed framing device, and the performances are usually good.

Monorogue: Elf Off is now closed.

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