The Social Notwork by Sharon Tracey Wright, directed by Adam Wollerton at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre

 

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In an age of increasingly unlikely tech start-ups and internet innovations, where a video of a laughing baby can reach over a million hits, we all like to dream of the moment that our creation goes viral. This is the interesting and often funny basis of The Social Notwork, a show focusing on three recently made redundant northern women.

We meet Karen (Ruth Keeling), Mel (Shereen Roushbaiani) and Marie (Abigail Halley) at the funeral of Suze, a friend fallen victim to her desire for a social media hit. As the friends wryly observe, being done in by a skateboarding Staffie wearing deely-boppers is no way to go. We witness the three women struggling to make ends meet on their redundancy packets, a depressing reality for so many in the UK at the moment, and it takes a big idea of Karen’s to lead the women into attempting their own ‘takeover of the internet’. Utilising the camera skills of Marie and the social media obsession of Mel, the trio set out to form ‘3 Daft Cows and a Cameraphone’, establishing themselves on ‘Daft Moo Tube’.

Ruth Keeling as Karen gets most of the laughs, her character as a downbeat realist nicely contrasting with her sudden brainwave moments of increasingly bizarre ways to end the money worries. The trio bounce off each other well, but there are moments when lines are fluffed and at times it feels like the cast are merely going through the motions. This was most evident when the women attend a ‘Start Up Conference’, getting tips from Malcolm Jeffries as Ken, a washed up wannabe life coach. Here the show descends into some predictable comedy moments, as the women trade panic attacks and cause the lecturer to have a breakdown. The scene feels drawn out and overly long, an issue that also occurs when the women are trapped in a tree following an attempted ‘Moo Tube’ filming. However, the audience are presented with a happy ending as the first video of the trio goes viral, Karen suffering the indignation of her knickers becoming national news. Whilst amusing, it is a trifle idealistic that success comes so quickly.

A highlight of the show was the three friends at Suze’s funeral wake; debating her untimely demise whilst inhaling sausage rolls and Mel snapchatting the entire event. The irony of the scene is nicely portrayed, and the cast perfectly execute the awkwardness of attending a wake whilst quietly disparaging the victim. However, the show really loses pace in its scene changes, seemingly never ending blackouts accompanied by increasingly irritating jingle tunes. They quite literally take forever, and as the set is so sparse, there’s no excuse. Overall, an entertaining evening but one that would benefit from a script tightening and slicker scene changes.

WIGS 3/5

La Gíngy Strollér

Leanna and Anglea Present: The Sandy and Danni Improv Show at The Canal Café Theatre

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Here at The Ginger Wig we have a lot of respect for those brave enough to get on stage and give improv comedy a go. In a situation where you are reliant on the quick wits of your co-stars and good suggestions from the audience, it’s a risky game. For it to succeed, you have to be generating original and funny lines at speed, whilst being fantastically in sync with your comedic partner. Sadly, at The Sandy and Danni Improv Show, this wasn’t the case.

Despite the best efforts of Leanna and Angela, their attempt at portraying two American girls looking for love immediately fell victim to poor accents. The pair wavered in and out of General American and pandered to stereotypical ‘sorority girl’ type. Whilst there was a legitimately amusing section of the show where audience members attempted to woo the lone single punter via the medium of pipe cleaners, the disjointed nature of the sketch material meant the show lacked any comic fluency. This was compounded by an impromptu power cut about 20 minutes in, something inexplicably followed by a dance routine to ‘What Does The Fox Say’. The pair performed hip thrusts around audience members forced into animal masks; completely unrelated to the rest of the show and extremely bizarre.

The show closed on its ‘Dating’ section, utilising cards submitted by the audience that suggested dates for the girls. As this was the central concept of the show, I assumed this would be the situation in which their improv skills would come to light. Instead, whether it was their intention or not, we received four painfully awkward dates. A hook up with ‘George Galloway’ continued with the poor accent trend, as an attempt at Scottish swiftly became a half Irish/half Yank nasal drawl, and the communication between the pair led them into frequent dead ends and silences. This is unforgivable in improv comedy, and as the audience suggestions could have generated some excellent material, they wasted some golden opportunities.

I have to commend the commitment of Leanna and Angela, and there were funny moments within the show, but too many opportunities to improve the action were missed. This is a show with a great concept, but one that requires better lines than its stars are currently delivering.

Highlight of the show – Sadly my highlight of the show was the turn by the guest comedienne of the night, Lou Sanders. She stole the show, despite being a last minute replacement and her set being primarily composed of jokes read from a sheet of paper, as she road-tested material for her solo Edinburgh show.

WIGS – 2/5

La Gíngy Strollér

The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie by Anders Lustgarten at the Arcola Theatre

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It has been a while since we have been to the Arcola and certainly not since we restarted the Ginger Wig. We normally have a lovely time due to the thought-provoking theatre they put on. This sadly was not the case with The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie…

Set in rural China, this play followed the tale of peasants in Chairman Mao’s new China, starting in 1949 and how they experienced the land reforms and how that affected their place in society particular in response to their landowner.

From the start it was clear that the play was about a piece of history built round the story of a few peasants. The time range was marked by years on the wall that were pulled off to show the progress through time. However in being so emphatic on the politics of the situation the playwright seemed to forget the most important function of a play – telling a story. As a result the dialogue was slabby, unimaginative and at points devoid of any originality.

The set, although initially appearing impressive, turned out to be rather problematic for the staging of the piece, with scenes happening all over the space, behind audiences and behind pillars. As for the acting, there was a big range of talent that meant we were left with a group of actors who didn’t seem to gel properly and struggled to convey their characters.

This was therefore the first time as the Ginger Wig that we have left a show at the interval. Maybe then our observations only apply to the first half of the play and perhaps the second half was a blinder. Leaving a show early is not something we normally do and certainly not something we would consider doing had we been invited to the show. However, when we have spent our own cold hard cash to see something, then we reserve the right to leave early if we desire.

From our experience, this was a very untypical night of theatre at the Arcola.

Highlight of the show …

WIGS 1/5

The Royal Ballet’s The Winter’s Tale by Christopher Wheeldon and Joby Talbot

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The Winter’s Tale is another superb collaboration between Christopher Wheeldon and Joby Talbot in a co-production by the Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. It is a full-length ballet based on the Shakespeare play.

The sudden fixation by Leontes that Hermione has been unfaithful is the psychological trauma around which the drama unfolds. It is this devastating loss of judgement and reason that Wheeldon must convey because the whole of the story follows from it. And Wheeldon certainly delivers. It is an extraordinary psychological torment that besets Leontes as he descends through anguish, to a state of abject despair and loss of mental and physical strength. The play is brilliantly translated into ballet. We noticed how Leontes’ first soliloquy is dramatically converted into the action of the two kings placing their hands on Hermione’s belly to feel the unborn baby with the ensuing emotional turmoil of jealousy initially expressed in the terrible contorted movements of Leontes’ hands. No temporary episode of madness could have a worse outcome. Leontes inflicts a terrible punishment on Hermione and their new child and the effect of this destroys his small son Mamillius.

In Act Two the youthful antics of the rural folk are all as they should be and within this there is fabulous dancing from James Hay as Florizel and Francesca Hayward as Perdita. Look out in particular for Marcelino Sambé as Brother Clown who recalls another dancer of the Royal Ballet now in his 70s – Wayne Sleep.

The final act of the ballet is a tour-de-force. Wheeldon delivers a pas-de-deux whose tragic dimension overwhelms the awe and amazement that surround the reunion of the couple after their 16-year separation. The emotional spectrum Wheeldon employs to communicate the immensely challenging facts of the reunion is subtle, raw and painful to watch. There is wonderful dancing here from Thiago Soares and Claire Calvert.

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The design of this ballet is beautiful with dark foreboding clouds at the beginning, a wonderful tree for Bohemia, and a sombre setting for the final scene with exquisite dove pinks and greys for costumes. Bob Crawley has done a fantastic job as he did for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Joby Talbot’s score admirably meets the emotional requirements of the story with on-stage musicians playing non-orchestral instruments for the act in Bohemia and beautiful orchestral writing for Hermione and Leontes in the other acts. The final word must be about Christina Arestis who takes the part of Paulina the character who spirits Hermione away to her strange exile and at the same time is the person to whom Leontes returns for comfort. Touches of Martha Graham in relation to hands struck me. The hand is so much the doer and invests a curious power in the part of Paulina. She is a powerful and effective facilitator but in no sense is this a masculine portrayal. This is a brilliant piece of choreography. She has a much more subtle and sensitive power and it is she who enables Leontes to reunite with Hermione and their newly returned daughter, Perdita.

Christopher Wheeldon is the true successor to Kenneth MacMillan.

Highlight of the show – the synthesis of Shakespeare, ballet, music and design to produce a tremendous new work of art.

4/5 WIGS

28 Days Later by Secret Cinema

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Secret Cinema. Does it fall into the performing arts category? Should we be reviewing it? Of course we bloody should be. A Cinema theatre hybrid – it’s the greatest development in movies since the talkies! Our first experience with Secret Cinema was going to ‘The Lost Boys’ and we’ve been fans ever since. Nothing had topped that first insane sensory overload, until ’28 Days Later’. When we first saw the film, it blew us away for its style, music and Usain Bolt zombies. Secret Cinema did not disappoint us on putting their unique stamp on one of the UK’s best horror films.

Upon arrival at Canada Water, something was definitely afoot as hordes upon hordes of scrub wearing patients turned up and headed along to an old industrial site five minutes from the station. We were not among the hardcore (mugs) who chose to spend an extra £20 on special Secret Cinema scrubs, which certainly were not essential. The tickets are pricey enough.

We waited eagerly to enter the hospital facility to be checked for signs of the Rage virus. Someone told us to dispose of the rag we had hanging out of our pocket, that we had used to wipe up some zombie blood earlier. This was obviously not appropriate in a contamination zone… Once inside we talked to several doctors before heading in for our vaccination, a situation that was probably the most terrifying moment of the whole night. (No spoilers here!) What followed was an adrenalin fuelled immersion into the entire film featuring some tremendous set pieces and well performed vignettes from the movie. The energy and horror created by this experience had everyone sweating. One unlucky patron fell to the ground at one point. Once we had reached Frank and Hannah’s flat, it was clear she was in some distress, as someone in scrubs was helping her. As the medic turned around to ask if anyone was actually a real doctor we got a sight of a very real, very deep gash on the poor girl’s leg. She seemed like a nice girl, but as Selena said, with someone in that state, the concern is “whether they’re gonna slow you down”…  She was left behind… as supper for the zombs…

After many scares and narrow escapes, we got through to the quarantine section, guarded heavily by soldiers. Here there were dressed rooms from the movie, and vendors selling food and drink that we drastically needed as the adrenaline rush of the previous section had created quite an appetite. The chilli we ordered was delicious, and there was no skimping on the sour cream, coriander and cheese.The vaccination cocktails, were, from our taster, weird, disgusting and moreish, but to help the swamped bar staff we opted for cold beers instead.

After dinner, it was suddenly obvious that we were no longer in a safe zone, as the space had become a full on zombie apocalyptic rave. From our vantage point we thought we had the drop on the zombies, but they climbed and clambered their way up to us, startling us in the process. Some clever lighting and special effects made this even more intense as the DJ dropped some classic tunes.

Finally we went into the last space, that had elements of the opening of our immersion, to experience Jim, Selena and Frank, smash their way through hordes of the undead, as Secret Cinema brought the film to life all around us. It was an evening of total immersive entertainment. The size of an operation like Secret Cinema truly baffles. They created a vast world with sound effects, lighting effects and live actors, coupled with an insane amount of related online narrative and banging grub to boot. The smoothness of their operation is truly remarkable. With all of this, one can understand the price of the ticket. No one else is doing cinema like this. You would be a fool to miss it.

Highlight of the Night – being sent through for our first vaccination and the zombie rave.

WIGS 5/5

Show Boat by Hammerstein and Kern at the New London Theatre

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This was the first production of Show Boat on the West End since 1998. Having opened on Broadway in 1927, this musical from legendary musical masterminds, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, still packs a punch, dramatically, musically and thanks to Daniel Evans brilliant direction, it does it all in spectacular fashion.

The show is set in the deep south of America on the ‘Cotton Blossom’, a show boat travelling up and down the Mississippi river. The family on board deal with the racial issues of the time whilst trying to keep their performing business alive. The story also follows the plight of the boat owner’s daughter, Magnolia (Nolie) and her problematic romance with Gaylord Ravenal.

This production transferred from the Sheffield Crucible after a run in 2015. The Sheffield Crucible is a powerhouse of UK musicals at the moment, second only perhaps to the Chichester Festival Theatre. It is therefore interesting to note that director Daniel Evans has taken over as artistic director at Chichester after an extremely successful tenure at the Crucible. This was Daniel’s last production as director at the Crucible and this version at the New London Theatre shows us exactly why it deserved all the accolades it has received. He has directed a classic musical which contains all the ingredients of success. The story, whilst humorous, feels slightly dated, but the racial problems still resonate. There is fantastic singing form start to finish from the entire cast and there is a spectacular set.

Emmanuel Kojo gave an excellent rendition of ‘Ol’ Man River’ and Gina Beck as Magnolia was spellbinding as the young daughter of Captain Andy. Her renditions of ‘Can’t help lovin’ dat man of mine’ were tremendous. There were other good songs such as, ‘Make Believe’ and ‘Bill’. Dramatically the opening needed a slight reworking of the orchestration, or direction. It seemed like it was going to be stronger, as everyone entered the stage creating an opening tableau which then dissolved weakly into a lacklustre opening number. However as soon as the ship pulled on to the stage, it was plain sailing from then on. This was a charming revival of this classic musical. Get down to the New London Theatre to catch it before it’s done.

Highlight of the Show – Ol’ Man River, Can’t help lovin’ dat man of mine, and all of the reprises, and, of course, the beautiful Cotton Blossom.

WIGS 4/5

 

 

Twelfth Night by Thick as Thieves at The Hope Theatre

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Our first trip to the Hope Theatre in Islington was an all round pleasant affair that started off nicely with a bottle of vino and some fine grub before ascending to the theatre for a night of Shakespeare. We were greeted cordially by the cast who were doubling up as ushers, exhibiting a natural charm, ease and humour when interacting with the audience, and settling us down for the play ahead.

We had never seen Twelfth Night before but we had been told the story by a friend, as it is their favourite Shakespeare. Brushing up is always key with Shakespeare especially when a company decides to do it as a four hander. Yes, four actors playing 14 named characters. We felt this was going to be a bit mad and a bit wild – and indeed it was. Characters jumped into the audience, slunk in between us, and even assigned audience members as characters within the play. These mad antics were coupled with some brilliant original musical moments.

web size-176Founding members of Thick as Thieves, Nicky Driss and Thomas Judd have come together with Oliver Lavery and Madeleine MacMahony. All four actors were brilliant and portrayed their many different characters extremely well and drew lots of comedy from the parts. Simple costume changes were used to indicate character changes.

It was a bit overwhelming at times trying to keep up with the character changes in and amongst the Shakespearean verse, especially not knowing the play. For us it was the moments least connected with Shakespeare’s text that seemed to work the best, for example, the off the cuff remarks from Thomas, the whole company’s comical handling of a late arrival and the general humour when interacting with the audience at the start and at half time. In other words the moments when they were free of the text and simply improvising, worked really well, not to mention the wonderful musical moments they added to the play.

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Who can knock young actors for wanting to tackle the bard as it is undoubtedly a tremendous learning experience. We just feel maybe next time they should try something brand new and original. They certainly have the talent and ability. Overall however, it was an evening well spent.

Highlight of the show – the improvised moments and of course Malvolio’s yellow crossed garters.

WIGS 3/5

‘Twelfth Night’ by Thick as Thieves is playing at The Hope Theatre in Islington until the 30th April every night except Sundays and Mondays at 7:45pm.

Reasons to be Happy by Neil LaBute at the Hampstead Theatre

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Neil LaBute is always writing about American couples, maybe it’s all he knows? Regardless, it is definitely his forte. ‘Reasons’ was no different as we meet Greg, Carly, Kent and Steph – four American 30-somethings trying to find happiness in life and love. Greg has previously been in a relationship with Steph, but now finds himself in a new one with her best friend Carly who is Kent’s ex wife. Greg and Kent had previously worked together and been friends. Steph then confesses to still loving Greg, and so begins a tale of one man trying to take control of his life, deciding who is the right girl for him, if either, and ultimately trying find happiness.

Filled with laughs and great lines, these characters play so well next to each other because they are all so different. Greg is the eternally casual and adult child unable to make decisions whilst Kent is the hot headed and charmingly dim, ex-husband. Carly is the single mother, trying to find a nice guy to love her, while Steph is a whirlwind, trying to get back the man she now realises was her perfect man.

Oddly staged in a shipping container that rotated to create either the break room of a factory or the smoking porch of a school, scenes were also played out in front of it to show a supermarket parking lot, a sports field and the outside of a restaurant. This at times seemed a bit clunky, but had they created these sets on a bigger scale on the Hampstead stage it probably would have cost a lot more, so maybe all that can be said of these staging decisions was that they were economical.

The most interesting thing that came out of this play was Greg’s response to having made Carly pregnant. His view on abortion represents a conservative American response to an unplanned pregnancy. There is a much bigger issue here surrounding the profound questions about new life which are only considered after the event. The casualness with which these characters approach relationships is entirely inconsistent with the gravity of the unplanned outcome which then forces people into making decisions before they truly know what they want from life.

Tom Burke, was exceptional as Greg. All his scenes seemed to carry the most energy. Lauren O’Neil was very good as his ex-girlfriend Steph as highly extrovert but wildly unpredictable character. Warren Brown and Robyn Addison were also very good as Kent and Carly respectively, however their first scene together seemed to fall a bit flat. Not that this mattered, as the whole cast picked it up afterwards.

This play was about the endless search for happiness that we all go through. Can it be found in a stable relationship? Or was Greg, in shooting off to New York, to pursue a full time teaching position he always wanted, looking first for self-fulfilment?  These were familiar but profound questions raised in a very entertaining, typical Neil LaBute night of theatre.

Highlight of the Show – Tom Burke’s performance. Also the older, hard of hearing patron next to us, who loved the play in a big way.

‘Reasons To Be Happy’ has been extended to the 23rd April at the Hampstead Theatre, with matinees at 14:30 and 15:00 and evening performances at 19:30.

Giles Abbott at The Last Tuesday Society

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Last Sunday we made a trip east to check out a storyteller we first came across when listening to BBC Radio 4. Giles Abbott is unlike most storytellers. He has a way with words and a tone of voice that can instantly transport you deep into the heart of his story. He is also the UK’s only professional blind storyteller. Having qualified as a journalist,  his life took a detour when he suddenly lost the sight in both his eyes, the sight in his right disappearing in five days and the sight in his left disappearing in four hours, 7 months later.

We joined Giles last Sunday evening at his regular monthly slot at the last Tuesday Society in the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in east London, a museum containing everything from giant spider crabs to old fashioned adult novels. With a repertoire that contains stories from all over the world, we were treated to a selection of stories about fools that Giles chose on the spot. We heard several stories about ‘Shake Chilli’ the Indian fool, a fairytale about a fool who couldn’t see that his luck was always in front of him, and a darker story, requested by us listeners, about a king trying to understand if all his citizens were happy. There was also a tale about a adulterous wife and an aristocrat involving an exquisite mink coat.

Every word uttered was delivered with absolute purpose to tell a beautiful story. The pictures he created with his words were everything they needed to be for each tale, beautiful, charming, dark and funny. Slight shifts in accent suggested different characters throughout his storytelling, bringing us deeper into his tales.

This was one of our best experiences of professional storytelling and we will definitely return to hear Giles again.  His was a voice that was cinematic. In preparing to write this article we clicked on to his website just as ‘Love and Happiness’ by Al Green started playing on our laptop. On opening Giles’ website we immediately heard him recounting a tale of battle just as Al’s beat kicked off. This random moment of synthesis was an example of how wonderful Giles’ voice was in sitting so comfortably on top of music and in doing so the tale became something completely new.

Highlight of the piece – Giles’ voice, he talked about the mink coat caressing a woman’s body as she put it on, exactly what his voice was doing to our ears.

WIGS 5/5

 

BUG by Tracy Letts at Found111

 

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If you recall the dysfunctional family in August: Osage County, brought by Steppenwolf to the National Theatre, you will not be surprised by the deeply vulnerable and damaged characters of BUG, Tracy Letts’ 2005 play currently at Found111. The play is delivered by a superb cast led by Kate Fleetwood as Agnes and James Norton as Peter.

Agnes, a waitress, is a woman living in a motel room in a small town in Oklahoma, on the margins of US society, fearful about the release from prison of her ex-husband. Surrounded by the props of a fearful and lonely life, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, she is visited by her friend and a friend of hers in the form of Peter, the part taken by James Norton. The susceptibility of these lives is apparent in the first encounter between Agnes and Peter whose non-threatening, non-macho and superficially gentle demeanour immediately finds an emotional, if wary, response, from Agnes. However, unidentified phone calls have already made Agnes anxious about the re-appearance of her aggressive ex-husband who does indeed return to try and assert his possession of Agnes but after a stand-off with Peter takes money off Agnes and leaves.

Left alone the relationship develops but it is clear that Peter’s perception of the world is somehow more intense than what would be regarded as normal. A sudden and dramatic reaction to being bitten in bed and the subsequent search for the responsible bug is the first obvious sign of what becomes an increasingly obsessive behaviour, which includes the use of a microscope and Petrie dishes, numerous cans of insect repellent, to take on the infestation of bugs not to mention sudden departures from the motel room with no explanation. However, there is an explanation. We learn through Agnes’ friend that a Dr Sweet has been trying to find Peter and that Peter has been in an army hospital for four years. We learn that he was a combatant in one of the Gulf Wars. Agnes, who is at first, dismissive and then dismayed by Peter’s behaviour becomes absorbed by his delusional world and finally a fully participating member of it. The play culminates in full paranoia fuelled by a conspiracy theory whose potency leads to a tragic and terrifying endgame.

The mesmeric Kate Fleetwood and James Norton were joined by Alec Newman, Daisy Lewis and Carl Prekopp, who all gave fine performances in a very intense evening. Found111 was the perfect location for this disturbing piece with the dilapidated interior of the old St. Martins Art School blending effectively with the design of the production. Lighting, sound and physical design were all tremendous in creating the deluded and enclosed world of BUG.

Highlight of the production – Agnes’s susceptibility to Peter’s delusions leading to her own tragic conspiracy theory.

WIGS 4/5