Thyestes by Derailed Theatre at The Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton

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We made the trip across London to one of our favourite little theatres, The Courtyard, in Hoxton, to see Derailed Theatre’s brand new imagining of Thyestes. Originally by Seneca, this adaptation by Joseph Cunningham transports the action into an oligarchy where Atreus plots the revenge of his brother.

Brilliantly staged at Atreus’ birthday party, the audience sat either side of a long wooden table as the action unfolded around us and on the table, making for a very live piece of theatre. The four actors played the Furies goading and guiding the action and individually they took the parts of Thyestes, Atreus and various attendants.

Director Joseph Cunningham has created a brilliant piece of theatre with this modern interpretation of this classic Greek text. The moments of physical theatre, puppetry, and contemporary music brought this piece kicking and screaming into the 21st century, whilst the tenor of the whole show was overwhelmingly poignant. We particularly liked the use of Bon Iver’s ‘Woods’ as a lullaby.

Guy Woolf portrayed Atreus brilliantly, ranging from manic anger affected with twitches and mad glances to childlike cunning. The final outcome of this show, as with the original Greek version, was understandably dark, and utterly compelling. Charlotte Duffy and Hanako Footman were fantastic as furies and attendants whilst Benedict Hastings was extremely good as the returning brother, Thyestes.

The whole design and aesthetic of this piece was very impressive for a small company. The hanging bulbs created the darkest of birthday parties and the incorporation of feathers into the costumes was inspired. Furthermore the red lights under the tables coupled with the smoke often had us thinking we were looking into the depths of hell.

A really impressive creation from Derailed Theatre, definitely a company to watch out for in the future!

Highlight of the show – the false curtain call – perfect in summing up the madness of Atreus.

WIGS 4/5

 

Iris by Mascagni, text by Illica at Opera Holland Park

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The opera was first performed in 1898 and set in Japan. It pre-dates Puccini’s ever-popular Madam Butterfly by six years. The opera is a tale of abduction and exploitation of a young teenager but, unlike Madam Butterfly, there is no redeeming love to mitigate what is in fact a squalid little story. On the contrary it was intended as a commentary on human behaviour.

The opening is clearly influenced by Wagner and leads to a chorus who present a quasi-pantheistic worldview in which nature is paramount. The opera has a lavish score but here’s the rub. The narrative, which is singularly lacking in any humanity, is supported by late Romantic music that does not reflect the full emotional range of the narrative. It is a truly horrible scene – but brilliantly brought off – when Osaka tries to seduce the awkward, exceptionally naïve Iris and, since the sexual grooming of girls is not an issue far away from the public mind, it therefore has a conspicuous contemporaneity. But the music does not do justice to the scene. And the Wagnerian leitmotifs such as they are quite simply do not have the gravitas to match their subject. By contrast think of the resonant three-note Fate motive in The Ring as one example. There is another major weakness with the narrative. The structure of the opera is awkward. At the end of the second act, following the attempted seduction scene, where the dramatic tension is at its greatest, we see Iris leap to her death. But a final act follows in which her final demise is interrupted by the activities of scavengers and the reflections of the three main male characters who have been responsible for her sordid end. The opera ends with the sun lighting her way to heaven with the text, ‘Come, flower!’.

Whilst having these misgivings, it also true to say that the performance of this work was terrific. All main leads were outstanding. Anne Sophie Duprels as Iris, a regular at Holland Park, brings an extraordinary expressive range to her fabulous voice. And then there was Mikhail Svetlov as the blind father and James Cleverton as Kyoto who were also excellent.

And so to the tenor. We at Ginger Wig had the pleasure of meeting Noah Stewart in 2012 in Newcastle when he was Pinkerton opposite Ann Sophie in Opera North’s Madam Butterfly and it was we who said he must come to Holland Park! What more can we say? His acting and singing were outstanding and we look forward to seeing him again at Holland Park.

This is not a great opera but it is worth seeing. Its moral message sets it apart from its time. A fabulous cast made it a very interesting evening.

4/5 Wigs

Seven Sins by Showtime Cabaret at Café de Paris

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On Friday night we were invited into the dark and opulent depths of Café de Paris for their new regular Friday night show ‘Seven Sins’. This was our first trip to the famed Café – “the glittering jewel of London” – and it will certainly not be our last.

Lead to our table by a lovely mermaid we were informed that we would be witnessing an extremely sexy and dangerous new show! There were rules we had to abide by, but these did not extend to dancing on the tables and hanging from the chandelier. The dinner was exquisite and were fortunate for the very attentive and kind Marta, who served us and answered all our questions throughout the evening.

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And so on to the show. Our MC for the night, Reuben Kaye, was tremendous, describing himself as a homosexual T-Rex. He strutted around the crowd with the perfect mix of character, sass, humour and personality that had the audience in the palm of his hand. He was probably the finest MC we have ever witnessed singing a collection of songs in opera-gothic style and having audience members in fits of laughter. Quick witted and sharp he had the perfect reason for not going up to the birthday tables tucked away under the balcony “I’m like Simba – I can only go where the light touches”.

The first act was about envy. It was a brilliant male acrobatic ring performance. The most impressive moment of which was when he hung from the ring using only his shoulder blades. This was followed by gluttony, a rather unsettling knife-swallowing act, made more gruesome by the sheer speed the little red riding hood performer forced spoons, forks and swords down her throat. Then we came to greed, performed by Chrisalys. He was a rather frightening pig in pinstripe suit who trotted about the stage throwing cash in the air and blowing fire into the sky – an explosive ending to the second half.

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The second half started with more more gags from Reuben before it was straight in with lust as another young sinner performed some incredible feats of acrobatic strength made even more impressive when his shoes were lit on fire. This was followed by sloth – a brilliant burlesque piece performed by the sexy and salacious Bettsie Bon Bon. From here it was wrath with a tiny oriental girl swinging around the stage by her hair followed by a big ensemble song. Audience members had been picked on earlier in the night, with jokes flying at them from the fork-tongued Reuben Kaye, however what was about to happen to the Ginger Wig was a little unexpected. The ensemble number ended in front of our table, when suddenly every performer turned to look directly at us. Arms, hands and toes, unbuttoned our shirt in a flash, as we were licked from navel to cheek and fed strawberries from the mouth of Little Red Riding Hood – just your regular Friday night as the Ginger Wig!

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Finally the show ended with pride, a spectacular hula hoop performance celebrating more than the sin with the up-coming parade in London. Fire was thrown into the mix before someone in metal lingerie appeared with a circular saw creating a star-scape of sparks above the performer.

Everything had a touch of the Devil about it, from the performance to the venue to the night itself. We almost felt if employed by the Café, the only way to leave is in a coffin – just the kind of macabre feeling you want from a cabaret show. Brilliant all round service and entertainment from this long standing bastion of cabaret in London. Completely corrupted, we left the chamber of this glittering jewel, electrified with energy and slunk out into the London night, slipped in sin.

Highlight of the Show – Reuben Kaye – the most devilish host.

WIGS 5/5

Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks at The Harold Pinter Theatre

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We are a bit ambivalent about jukebox musicals at the Ginger Wig & Strolling Man. However, when invited, we approach them with an open mind. Our previous experiences were ABBA’s ‘Mama Mia’ and The Beatles’ ‘Let it Be’. This one was infinitely better than either of those.

What was instantly recognisable was that the band’s lyrics always reflected their own experiences. These were always written by Ray Davies. The whole show played out as a history of the band from their forming, initial success, signing, expulsion from America after a dispute with the unions, band troubles, and their final success at Madison Square Gardens in NYC. This all made a very strong narrative for the show.

Led by the tremendous duo of Ryan O’Donnell and Oliver Hoare as main band member brothers, Ray and Dave Davies, they pumped this show full of energy. They were backed by a tremendous ensemble cast, most of whom played instruments, in an entertaining, interesting and musically splendid picture of the history of The Kinks.

It was great entertainment for fans and non-fans alike – plus a great education in relation to their history if you did not know much about it.

Highlight of the Show – the little moments of jamming trying to get the perfect sound for songs such as ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘Waterloo Sunset’. Perfect when they finally came together.

WIGS 4/5

BARBU by Cirque Alfonse at London Wonderground

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Wild bearded circus came to the London Wonderground at the Spiegeltent this week. A team of six performers and three instrumentalists performed to an enthusiastic and packed circus tent.

Opening on roller skates there were moments when we thought someone would fly into the audience, the danger of the situation magnifying the excitement we felt from this adrenaline pumped opening. There was some brilliant acrobatics and feats of strengths from the chaps whilst the ladies did some beautiful ring swinging. The juggling was also very good, however, there were a couple of mistakes in this section. There was also a phenomenal magic trick in the middle of the performance, the kind which leaves you scratching your head as you exit the show.

The brilliance of this piece though was the way they weaved humour throughout. A brilliant recurring joke was about one chap trying to balance golf clubs, which was possibly a swipe at an extravagant version of the same feat performed by Cirque du Soleil recently. His attempts at balancing the clubs were always ruined by the interventions of others. The final part of this was hilarious with his male colleague dancing provocatively around him. The Mentalist added more comedy to the piece with his bizarre act plus nudity whilst the audience participation sections were extremely funny too.

There was a power cut halfway through, and we wish the musicians had responded to it more quickly. Eventually they abandoned their musical posts and came centre stage for an acoustic violin, drum and vocal song. Fortunately the power cut did not detract from the overall performance and we were even more excited when things kicked off again.

This was an extremely entertaining, bearded Canadian circus show. The perfect evening spectacle from these wild Québécois.

Highlight of the piece – The opening on skates – pulling each other around in a circle by their beards.

WIGS 4/5

Off The Kings Road by Neil Koenigsberg at Jermyn Street Theatre

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You know something is a bit suspect when you see three different sets of five stars on a billboard… from the same reviewer… This was the case for ‘Off The Kings Road’. Lucky however we did not notice this slight irregularity until we left, otherwise we might not have sat down with such an open mind.

Matt Brown is a recent widower who has decided to take a trip to London to celebrate his birthday. He checks in to an exclusive town house hotel in Chelsea and tries to take his mind off his bereavement. Struggling with his loneliness he has the help of chirpy bell boy, Freddie, his on-call doctor in America and his medication to try and get him through his depression. Despite meeting the only other guest in the hotel, Ellen, a widow of a similar age he decides to see a Russian prostitute to cure his loneliness. Eventually he plans a date with Ellen but suffers an anxiety attack which prevents this from happening.

The relationship between Matt and Ellen, played by gifted actors, Michael Brandon and Cherie Lunghi, was potentially the most interesting aspect of the plot but it was not developed. They would have benefited from a story that showcased them together but instead they barely had a full scene together. When not alone with Matt, we are with Freddie. Although superfluous, Freddie was a much needed bit of light relief, but most of the time it felt as if he was in the wrong play. Maybe he came from ‘The Comedy About a Bank Robbery’ across the road. The dialogue was intermittently interesting but for the rest of the time it was dull. The play dragged and we got to a stage when we just wanted it to end.

The play was written by Neil Koenigsberg, the entertainment guru who founded PR big hitters, PMK. This was a bold career change. Clearly he has the wherewithal, the support and the celebrity friends to help kickstart a career in playwriting – Academy Award Winner Jeff Bridges played Matt’s doctor via Skype. This play already had two showcase productions in NYC and we wonder at what point a decent play will emerge.

There were glimpses of something here. A design moment when the TV seemed to take over the whole stage was effective and a profound line from prostitute, Sheena, about fairytales came across very truthfully. As mentioned, Freddie, offered some respite to a very dreary play. But was he directed to be over-the-top and completely un-naturalistic as a way of saving the piece or was it intended on its own merits? Our feeling was that it was damage limitation by director, Alan Cohen.

Jeff Bridges’ appearances were briefly entertaining, but in fact, we often found ourselves inspecting our fellow audience members for signs of boredom and tiredness in these scenes. We did not come to watch a TV; we came to see theatre. This was the effect of having to focus on a Skype chat making the rest of the stage irrelevant. For us, it did not work at all.

People say there are not enough plays out there dealing with old people and their issues – having physical pain in an ageing body, dealing with loneliness and boredom, and finding a new partner later on. But you can never avoid the basic prerequisite of good writing. Two older folks were asleep in the back row for most of the play. They probably were not the only ones.

Not such a good start from Neil Koenigsberg, but let’s hope for better things. Good performances despite the piece, from all four actors, Luke Pitman, Michael Brandon, Cherie Lunghi and Diana Dimitrovici.

Highlight of the piece – Freddie’s completely out of place comedy.

WIGS 1/5

In The Gut by Les Femmes Ridicule at The Blue Elephant Theatre

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This week we took our first trip to the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell. We were cordially invited by Les Femmes Ridicule to see their new piece, ‘In The Gut’.

This was a crazy and very amusing night of entertainment from RADA-trained trio: Alice Robinson, Siobhan McKiernan and Margot Courtemanche. Leading us on a voyage of discovery about childbirth, but also the painful experience of miscarriage, two chefs Judith Jerry and Marie Chantal du Pape put many questions to the audience about this life-changing issue. What are the questions surrounding becoming a parent? What are the physical and psychological issues which might prevent or assist parenthood?

This was all done in bizarre fashion through many different characters. At points the girls simply donned giant sperm helmets, physicalising the little swimmers. These vignettes all raised a different questions surrounding childbirth, making the audience question their own thoughts about having children. A beautiful pink curtain acted as the backdrop for this piece and doubled as lady-part curtains that were utilised countless times to hysterical effect.

The audience participation was very enjoyable in this piece. Indeed, we were pulled onto stage at one point to help with the difficult task of putting a diaper on Judith, as a baby. This seemed possible with the direction from Marie, however as soon as we begun, baby Judith, flew off into the audience to much laughter as we tried to complete the now impossible challenge through fits of laughter. There were, however,  some parts that felt like they needed to be developed a bit more, for example, the chicken trying to deliver an egg. Whilst the comedy was there, they just needed to go further with it. Maybe this was another opportunity for audience participation.

Overall however, the comedy side of this piece was brilliant. We just felt they could have connected their gags to the issue a bit more. From an entertainment perspective though, this was top notch – ridiculous character comedy exploration from Les Femmes Ridicule. We only wish we could have stayed behind afterwards to find out what the couple with the baby thought…

Highlight of the piece – The curtains, the sperm hats and their clowning.

WIGS 4/5

Ross by Terence Rattigan at Chichester Festival Theatre

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An excellent work that deftly weaves the historical events of the 1916-1918 Arab conflict with the role T E Lawrence played in it. The play begins in 1922 when Lawrence is a member of an Air Force base having joined under the false name, Ross. The play opens with an investigation by a senior officer of a minor offence committed by Lawrence at the air base that receives a cool disinterested intellectualism for its reply. A fellow airman recognises Lawrence and determines to reveal his whereabouts to the press in return for money.

The scene quickly gives way to the historical events of 1916-1918 moving from Egypt to the Saudi peninsula. We meet Lawrence, the younger man, full of determination and fearlessness, driven by an inner will, captivated by his cause. In 1922 all the passion is lost leaving a sterile pedantry. The Sykes-Picot Treaty has superseded him.

Joseph Fiennes was excellent in the role of Lawrence portraying someone who is profoundly altered by the history he has lived. Paul Freeman as General Allenby was also extremely good and Rattigan presents the two characters as a match for each other in their strategic and incisive capabilities. The unspeakable dreariness of the Air Force base with its rigid discipline is another world from that in which Lawrence lived and which gave him his appellation, Lawrence of Arabia.  It’s a brilliant dramatic juxtaposition.

Highlight of the show: the encounter between General Allenby and Lawrence.

4/5 WIGS

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare at The Globe Theatre

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Bold, bawdy and brilliant! Emma Rice has made some bright decisions in her first production as Artistic Director at The Globe theatre. An almost entirely female mechanicals team and a male Helena now Helenus, have brought this play straight into the 21st century in electric fashion.

Two ‘globe stewards’ opened the proceedings, giving us a full health and safety briefing in extremely comic fashion. We were soon to find out that these two stewards were in fact Quince and Bottom. Suddenly the play whipped into gear with a lilting sitar melody drifting down from the upper part of the globe stage. A tacky-looking Theseus and Hippolyta breezed onto stage and we were then introduced to Egeus and his dilemma about his daughter Hermia. She, Lysander, Demetrius and Helenus, all appear within the groundlings and jump upon huge tables that are in the pit.

Everyone in this production was fantastic. Meow Meow as Hippolyta and Titania was hysterical whilst Edmund Derrington as Lysander was brilliant as a pre-pubescent teen moving in an adult’s body. Hermia, played by Anjana Vasan bought a real honesty to her character, whilst Ankur Bahl as Helenus was brilliant, slowly becoming more sassy as his character found his confidence.

There were many cultural references to the 21st century, with moments of popular music seeping into the play, such as Shaggy’s ‘Bombastic’, Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ and Bowie’s ‘Starman’, whilst a few text changes had been made to bring this show up to date. “Hipster Hoxton attire” was the updated description Puck used to identify the correct lover. All these additions blended perfectly into the Shakespeare.

And so we come to Puck! An exquisitely engaging performance from Katy Owen, full of twitches and mannerisms not dissimilar to a howler monkey, she played the mischievous fairy brilliantly. She darted through the crowd playing with audience members and bringing them into this magical world – definitely a career-shaping performance from this talented young performer.

We loved the design with the huge globular spheres hanging above the stage and under the sky, whilst long draping green tubes swayed in the wind. As a result sight lines often changed as if we were in the woods watching the action unfold on the move. The onstage design was simple and effective, whilst the ass’ head was beautiful.

What a real treat this was at the Globe Theatre. If the Bard could come back from the dead, time travel to the present day, have a week to pick up a bit of the cultural context and listen to some of our music, and then come and see Emma Rice’s  production then he would be extremely proud. This was a real joy to watch and experience. This will go down long in the Ginger Wig’s memory. Do not miss this production!

Highlight of the piece – the perfect synthesis of Shakespeare, comedy, music, design and entertainment, enjoyed by all ages at the Globe. (And Oberon’s entrance with a 2L bottle of Strongbow).

WIGS 5/5

Minefield by Lola Arias at The Royal Court

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This was our first introduction to the work of Lola Arias. We could not squeeze it into our Brighton schedule so we were very excited to see it had transferred to the Royal Court in London as part of the Lift festival bringing international work to London. As a Brit who lived in Argentina for over a year, we have first hand experience of how differently the Falklands/Malvinas war (henceforth Malvinas, as the name is far nicer) of 1982 is perceived in each country. In Britain the conflict does not get a lot of airing, but it is an ever present topic of discussion in Argentina.

Performed by six veterans form either side of the conflict, this was a riveting encounter with the truth and the brutality of this unfortunate skirmish. Gabriel Sagastume, David Jackson, Sukrim Rai, Rubén Otero, Marcelo Vallejo and Lou Armour took us through their decisions to join the army, their first experiences, followed by their involvement in the conflict and the aftermath. My immediate sympathy was with the Argentineans, who as a result of national conscription, that only ended in 1995, were selected at random to be part of the invading Argentinian force.

All six veterans helped create the images and motifs of war through the use of multimedia, music, personal props and costumes throughout the piece. Water buckets, stamping in a box of gravel and vocal wind sounds were all used to create the barren landscape of the Malvinas.

These were not actors. These were former soldiers, now athletes, lawyers and psychiatrists. Only they know why they chose to be part of this. Maybe it was part of a process of understanding and maybe it was therapeutic. Maybe they just wanted to share their experiences with other men who had been there in 1982. No doubt such an exercise would be valuable for every soldier, and it is a shame that such opportunities are not available to all. The rehearsal process was referenced several times, in interesting ways, most notably in Marcello’s comments about the Gurkhas, saying if he ever had one in front of him he would like to “beat the crap out of him”. However, on meeting Sukrim in the flesh in Buenos Aires, he said he would rather buy him a beer.

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So much came out from this piece. Far too much to be able to put into a single review. The history of Rubén’s Beatles tribute band could be a play in itself. However on a very simple level, this was a brilliant example of how to talk about and engage people in history. Take something like this to schools and you will engage and interest children. They would learn much more from this than they ever could from a textbook. We do not learn about the Malvinas conflict in the UK. It is impossible to ignore it in Argentina. You learn the song, you learn that the land is connected under the sea, and you see t-shits and slogans claiming ‘Las Malvinas son Argentinas’ all over the streets and cities of Argentina. This play does not give any political arguments for and against the conflict. Like Tolstoy’s War and Peace it’s the individual and random experiences which describe the act of war.

One section particularly stood out. Like children in a playground the soldiers started hurling accusations of atrocities at the other side, before segueing into the misty history of the islands, comically informing us that we could learn more about the conflict by reading the English and Spanish Wikipedia articles. It is unimaginable that the Argentinians will give up their claim on the Malvinas and equally for the British simply to hand them over. The people on the island claim British rule and are happy that way. Maybe some Argentines could just move in and live peacefully alongside the British. There are plenty of Chileans there already.

If it exists, we look forward to reading the ‘La Peluca Pelirroja y El Paseador’ review of Campo Minado. But from our perspective this was brilliant piece of verbatim theatre and a very effective way to give a human voice to the stories of history. Well done to Lola Arias and all of those involved for this really important work.

Highlight of the piece – Rubén’s drum solo, shouting out phrases from his war, “1982, Margaret Thatcher, ARA General Belgrano”, whilst shredding the drums to pieces.

WIGS 4/5

Minefield has finished its run in England but you can catch it in at the National University of San Martin in Buenos Aires in November.