Christmas Farce by West Avenue Theatre Company at the Rosemary Branch

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Not to name-drop, but last week the West Avenue Theatre Company put on  Christmas Farce at The Rosemary Branch Theatre.

At the end of a long walk from Highbury and Islington, we eventually came across the Rosemary Branch Pub. Filled with life and great food, this was the perfect little pub to settle down in for a night of theatre.

The show itself was written by Shaun Kitchener and directed by Hannah Rowley. Set backstage at a regional theatre, a highly-strung director is trying to cobble together a show, whilst each actor, with or without intention, causes the whole show to fall apart. Last minute dropouts, frying pan fights and steamy affairs all fill the action, but despite the setbacks the show still manages to get to the end. The backstage of this nativity performance was a trifle of jokes. Each character was uniquely funny and all the actors brought their own elements of humour to this production.

Created by West Avenue Theatre Company, a London-based theatre company, they have excelled with Farce. We were in stitches throughout over Katherine Edrupt’s peachy actress, Georgie, who has a tale to tell for every occasion, Jack Gogarty’s gay actor, Danny, determined to be straight, and William Sebag-Montefiore’s slapstick and haphazard Samuel, and his eventually successful advances on Georgie. In its entirety, this piece was pure comic class, with every actor breathing comic life into Shaun’s play.

It was a real pre-Christmas treat, at a pub well worth trekking to for their great food and the great night of comedy theatre we enjoyed. Well done to West Avenue Theatre Company and Shaun Kitchener for this hysterical show.

Highlight of the show – Georgie’s countless announcements of “not to name drop but…”. Working with Hugh Grant in Bognor Regis was a highlight I’m sure.

WIGS 4/5

First Love Is The Revolution by Rita Kalnejais at Soho Theatre

Foxes are everywhere in London, but it seems like I am not the only one who wants to have one as a friend. This was the premise of ‘First Love Is The Revolution’, a new play by Rita Kalnejais at Soho Theatre. This remarkable play was naturally about, first love, but also the things we will do for that love. Furthermore there was much about the instincts of animals and their inter-connection in the great battle of life and death in the animal kingdom.

A family of foxes’ youngest female is caught and then befriended by an awkward boy struggling with his teenage years and split parents. Having still not quite mastered the art of the kill, the inexperienced cub is caught by the boy’s trap. Originally set to catch a fox so he could make a fox fur for his mother, the boy is won over by the cub and their relationship develops. Form the fox family’s perspective she has been partly tamed as she is now receiving food from the boy. From here begins a relationship of first love.

Dark, moving and funny, this piece could be summed up by the tragedy of mother fox’s line about the deceased father fox who was killed when hit by a car. “HE’S NOT HERE BECAUSE HE COULDN’T RESIST A FUCKING KEBAB!’ This naturally brought laughs from the crowd, but there was a dark edge to it in this moment of sadness. This play threw up many moments like this.

The climax of this piece was dramatic and bloody and left us all in complete shock. I mean, seeing a young couple making out on the sofa is one thing, but when you fully understand the girl to be a fox, it takes on a completely different meaning.

This show was fascinating in its use of animal characters who were portrayed by actors dressed normally, but showing the signs and mannerisms of the animals. It really was expertly expressed by the fox characters who could not use their thumbs, the mother constantly pawing her young affectionately and the nose nuzzling between each other.

This play was extremely well cast with Soho Theatre stalwart Simon Kunz, and Hayley Carmichael taking the roles of human father and fox mother respectively. Both delivered exceptional performances in their two different parent figures, not to mention their hysterical time as chickens. The younger actors, some fresh faced out of drama school were exceptional too, giving incredible physical and dramatic performances. Emily Burnett, Samson Kayo, Lucy McCormick and James Tarpey made up this awesome foursome.

A fantastic play from Aussie playwright Rita Kalenjais. We will certainly be looking out for her future work. Well done to Steve Marmion for his excellent directing to shape this into the piece we saw, fittingly on #LoveTheatreDay. A special mention to Aline David for her tremendous movement direction. If you’re gonna see one show this month – make it this one! Showing at Soho Theatre until the 21st November. Hopefully they extend its run, or transfer it somewhere, as I for one would love to see this again!

Dramatic highlight of the show – the introduction to the other animals including the arrival of the cat, the dog and the chickens, and of course the play’s violent climax.

WIGS 5/5

Harlequinade/All On Her Own by Terrence Rattigan at the Garrick Theatre

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Kenneth Branagh brings two Terence Rattigan plays to the Garrick Theatre; the hilarious, ‘Harlequinade’ and the darker, ‘All On Her Own”. The latter, a one woman monologue, has Zoë Wanamaker as the widow talking to her dead husband about how he died and why, aided by a lot of whisky. She has more of a bit part in Harlequinade, but is just as impressive in both comedy and drama.

My personal feelings on the first play, were that Rattigan’s writing left too much for his lead woman to do. Creating a double part for the lead woman – the husband and widow – although, not without its dramatic merit, seemed only partially developed. Maybe a modern mind, brought up on zombie films and horror, was hoping that a real ghost was going to appear. The opening was lit from behind the gauze, casting her shadow on it whilst at the same time a separate figure was standing near her disappearing when the gauze went up and the lighting changed.  It seemed a shame that this technique was not used again, and left us hoping throughout for something more spooky to happen. Instead we got a strange rumbling soundtrack and Zoe’s back and forth internal dialogue.

Harlequinade followed on and was introduced with an original CEMA propaganda film. Those of you old enough will know that this forerunner to the Arts Council of Great Britain was formed during World War Two and promoted British culture throughout the UK as a way to keep morale high during the war years. Had Harlequinade been written in time, it would certainly have lifted the spirits of the British people.

This play was sheer comic class. A famous acting couple are touring around the UK. In doing so they demonstrate the pretentious, vacuous, and self-centred nature of actors and the acting world. We first meet the couple playing Romeo and Juliet with Miranda Raison as Juliet who just about passes for her casting age. The same cannot be said about Branagh’s Romeo who is clearly far too old to play the 17 year old star-crossed lover. He youthfully tries to leap onto a bench bringing much laughter from his partner. Here lies the humour of this piece – the absurdity of these actors! Verging on farce, this play was full of laughs and anyone interested in the world of acting will absolutely love the humour poked at the world of luvvies. There was good acting all round from a mixed cast of young and older actors. Branagh’s comic timing is exceptional as is Wanamaker’s. However, every actor brought their own humorous contribution to this show.

The joining of these two one-act plays created the perfect night of dark and serious drama, followed by light and playful comedy. A good showing from Kenneth Branagh and his company. We look forward to seeing A Winter’s Tale in cinemas soon.

Highlight of the show – Harlequinade in its entirety. So many gags and stereotypes rolled into a show that hasn’t dated since its 1948 debut.

WIGS 4/5

Medea by Belvoir St. Theatre Company at the GATE Theatre

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Presented in association with Belvoir St. Theatre company from Sydney, the GATE Theatre have put on an exceptional version on the classic Greek tragedy, Medea. Told from the perspective of Medea’s two sons, this new play is a new perspective on Euripides’ harrowing tale of infanticide and showcases the talents of two extraordinary children – rare in theatre for such weighty matter and moreover they are the leads.

Jasper and Leon, Samuel Menhinick and Bili Keogh respectively, are holed up in their bedroom having been locked in by their mother. The play opens with them lying ‘pretend’ dead on the floor, a grim shadow of their impending doom. With toys strewn over the room the boys awake and carry out a series of Nerf gun battles, simulating various violent deaths. This is followed by various other games to pass the time. They sing songs, feed their fish, name animals, whilst also discussing how they feel about the possibility of leaving their mother to move into a mansion with their father and his new “friend”.

Being familiar with the story makes this perspective even more shocking. Throughout we laugh at the games and japes of the two young sons, whilst constantly being aware of the fate that awaits them. Emma Beattie’s Medea, enters occasionally to tell them to tidy up. She has the look of a very unstable women, who has been crying her eyes out over a bottle of red wine. It is frightening to watch when she tries to be kind to her boys and then snaps at them.

There is a lovely scene when she leaves the boys to tidy up. The boys then start humming Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz together. Something about the innocence of Jasper, wetting his bed in fear, plays beautifully alongside his teenage brother’s slightly more mature outlook on their situation. Both boys were tremendous in this production.

This was a beautifully structured play, that allowed the young actors to create a realistic story, with humour and horror. Emma Beattie closes the play fantastically with a powerful monologue. Well done to Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks for this unique adaptation at the Gate. Get down to it before it closes on 30th November.

Dramatic Highlight of the play – The boys’ stargazing moment interrupted by their mother’s entrance… With two green drinks…

WIGS 4/5

In My Head by Chris Mayo at the Proud Archivist

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Brand new writing from Chris Mayo with this interesting examination of mental health in today’s world. It was produced by Cuckoo Bang a company devoted to producing fresh and provocative work. Performed at the very trendy Proud Archivist in Hackney and surrounded on two sides by the canal, this was one groovy venue.

Inspired by a series of face to face and online anonymous interviews from over 50 people, the story looks at people’s different responses to various disorders, how they go about seeking treatment, the side effects of their illness, and the reactions they get from friends, partners and colleagues.

There was some sharp writing in this piece and Chris’s comic background came through in several very fast and witty comic exchanges. The story itself however sometimes got lost in all the cast changes. It was an ambitious narrative trying to give us at least four different stories that sometimes became a bit unclear. As listed, over 40 characters were played by six actors. In this situation characters must be clearly identified, otherwise things become tricky for the audience. The cast of six, despite this epic challenge, managed to bring real authenticity and realism to many of the significant characters they portrayed.

Elin Doyle’s therapist/date character was extremely effective as was her acting of a depressed wife. Louise Trigg’s self-harming teen was real and moving and came together beautifully with Matt Lim’s depressed worker. Both characters had a disturbing honesty. Holly Mallet, showed a lot of versatility in her characters and brought the piece to a moving conclusion leading the a capella version of Gnarls Barkely’s ‘Crazy’. Paul Huntley-Thomas’s over the top characters were just that, and showed real range when playing the husband to Elin’s wife. Finally, Dan Burman gave an effective portrayal of his characters and seemed to get a lot of the good laughs from the script.

There was a surreal moment in the middle of the piece with a mad game show for those suffering from mental health problems, something that could genuinely be conceived by TV producers determined to turn any human experience into a reality TV show hit

There were highs and lows to this piece. It was a good attempt at writing by a young and up and coming playwright, who will certainly benefit from this show. All six actors gave solid all round performances.

Dramatic highlight – The moment right in the middle of the show when all actors came on stage, talking over each other about the doses of medication they take and side effects. Full of energy and discomfort!

WIGS 3/5

Invisible Treasure by fanSHEN at the Ovalhouse

Our second trip to the Ovalhouse and this time we were presented with something completely un-theatrelike. Without any actors, this was more like stepping into a virtual video game in which we were the players.

Presented by fanSHEN, a theatre company specialising in multimedia and design to transform our world, Dan Barnard and Rachel Briscoe have created a room in which we were to explore the overarching theme of power through a levels-based group participation experience.

The GingerWig’s head was the paintbrush for some beautiful pastel ceiling painting. There was dancing to can-can, salsa, and flamenco all under the command of a central screen. We had to solve puzzles and challenges as a group and eventually were presented with a seemingly impossible challenge.

Although we weren’t simply under the supervision of the eye in the sky and the screen text, we also shared the room with a giant bunny rabbit! Who was the bunny rabbit? What power did he hold over us? What would it mean to protest? We exited the space, in a predictable, yet beautiful way, to be presented with these and other questions on the outside of the space as a cellist performed Bach’s unaccompanied cello suite above our heads. Here we could write our answers down, contributing to a myriad of responses to the issues of power.

This was ingenious and adventurous theatre/art using a lot of tech. It’s the sort of thing that deserves a bigger space to entrance more minds – the Tate’s Turbine Hall maybe? It got us talking to strangers and trying to achieve something with them.

A beautiful new show that is very different in its form. Beg, steal or borrow a ticket to this show – I believe all conventional routes have sold out for this show apart from the 4.30pm on Saturday 14th November – the final day of performances.

Highlight of the show – the satisfaction of completing levels as a group and the giant bunny rabbit.

WIGS 4/5

My Act I vs Act II Challenge

So, prompted by @TheatreTruffles, from a challenge set by @ChowKimWan, also carried out by @ThriftyTheatre, we are carrying out our Act I vs Act II challenge to explain which acts from our favourite musicals we prefer. Even the act of writing our eight favourite musicals down was enough of a test, but setting out which half we prefer, now that is something really deep people! Something that cuts to the core of our musical theatre heart. Anyway, here we go, in no particular order;

Singing in the Rain, 1952 (A. Freed & N. Brown)

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Starting simply with this one, it just has to be the first act. All the great numbers come in the first act, the title song, ‘Moses Supposes’, ‘Fit as a Fiddle’, ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’, ‘Good Morning’, ‘All I do is Dream of You’, ‘Beautiful Girls’ and ‘You Are My Lucky Star’. I mean they are all absolute winners! The second act is mainly reprises and the forgotten one from the film, Lina’s ‘Whats Wrong With Me”… No doubt about this one…

Verdict: Act I

Our favourite version – MGM movie magic of course.

My Fair Lady, 1956 (A. Lerner & F. Loewe)

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Almost a formality here too, it is only the unavoidably great natured “Get Me to the Church on Time’ that sways things to the second Act. In the first act, however, we see Eliza’s schooling, all the tension and beef with Professor Higgins as he tries to teach her manners and behaviour, coupled with all the great numbers, Highlights for us being, ‘I Could of Danced All Night’, ‘On the Street Where You Live’, ‘Wouldn’t it be Lovely’ and the cheeky ‘Servants Chorus’. Second half is generally just a bit suspect… So he wins the bet? She ends up staying with him? Even though it was all over a bet? Not sure about all that, but it sure is a cracking first act…

Verdict: Act I

Our favourite version – has to be the movie, Rex and Audrey – what a combo!

Kiss Me Kate, 1948 (Cole Porter)

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Finally a tough one. This one has good numbers in both acts, and plot wise develops, perfectly throughout. ‘Tom, Dick or Harry’ ‘Another Openin’ and ‘Wunderbar’ are favourites from the first act, however it’s hard to avoid the awesome ‘Too Darn Hot’ opening the second act and one of the best musical theatre duets for men ever written – ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’. Tight to call, but I think Act II just pips it.

Verdict: Act II

Our favourite version – Trever Nunn’s version at The Old Vic in 2013.

The Phantom of the Opera, 1986 (A.L. Webber & C. Hart)

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Musically this is a tough one as our two favourite numbers; ‘Music of the Night’ and ‘Masquerade’ come in each half. Therefore we will go for the dramatics to settle this one. All the chasing about and mounting tension of the second act coupled with the pyrotechnics does it for us…

Verdict: Act II

Our favourite version – has to be live at Her Majesty’s.

The Scottsboro Boys, 2010 (J. Kander & F. Ebb)

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Cheeky one here, as it is only one act. One act of the most powerful music theatre out there. It makes you laugh and think through its use of minstrel show techniques and serious subject matter. ‘Nothin’ is an incredible song to see live. A really exceptional Kander & Ebb musical.

Verdict: The whole thing.

Our favourite version – UK premiere at the Young Vic.

Cabaret, 1966 (J. Kander & F. Ebb)

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Another Kander & Ebb musical here. The show as a whole is a beast! Powerful, sexy, gripping, dealing with some very dark days. Obviously much of the story development happens in the second act, and there is a very powerful ending to contend with, but how can we overlook the famous opening number in the Kit Kat Club.

Verdict: Act I

Our favourite version – Emma Stone and Alan Cumming killing it for us in New York last year.

Guys and Dolls, 1950 (Frank Loesser)

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Another tough one here with Frank Loesser’s classic show. Strong music in both half’s, although our favourite number, “Fugue for Tinhorns’ does come right at the beginning of the show. We also get most of Sky’s pursuit of Sarah in the first Act and as they say, it’s all about the chase. Second act high points obviously down in the sewers for the crapshooting and of course ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat’. Not to forget ‘Sue Me’. A tricky one here, although I think for me the first act just wins out here.

Verdict: Act I

Our favourite version – although disliked by the purists, the movie really does it for us, although we’ve never actually seen it live – maybe at the Savoy? How can you argue with Frank and Marlon though…

The Wizard of Oz, 1939 (H. Stothart & H. Arlen)

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Here’s another tough one just by form, obviously we all know the film, however with at least four different staged adaptions it is hard to know where to break this one in two. Working this out roughly in my head, I will again opt for what I will presume to be the first act, because with most of these things, the opening, meeting the characters and getting a sense of the world, all occurs in the first act of a show. And of course we all know where ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ comes…

Verdict: Act I

Our favourite version – how can anything beat Judy!

And there it is our, Act I vs Act II favourite musical challenge! Well done to @ChowKimWan for coming up with it and thanks @TheatreTruffles for the challenge.