Extravaganza Macabre by Little Bulb Theatre at the Battersea Arts Centre

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Brand new theatre from Little Bulb in a brand new space at the BAC! What a tremendous combination this was for our Saturday night’s entertainment.

Sterling Prize-winning architects, Haworth Tompkins, have created a lovely little open air space for theatre within the Battersea Arts Centre. We took up a standing position right in the centre of the upper level, which thanks to Little Bulb’s creative staging turned out to be possibly the best ‘seat’ in the house.

And so to the show. A young couple’s wedding is tragically interrupted by a terrible storm that splits the couple up with the young man apparently sinking to a watery grave. Seven years pass and the girl believes her beloved to have passed away and is guided by her father’s advice to marry one Octavious London – a man it would seem has pure evil within him. Sidekicks Chipper and Dogdog help our young survivor hero to rescue his lady from a deadly finale and all is merry by the end despite some tragedy along the way.

Once again Little Bulb have created a charming, imaginative and beautifully  melodramatic tale that has you hanging on to every word and song. There were the trademark simple yet brilliant and original songs and music accompanying the piece with some really fine singing form the three core Bulb members, Clare Beresford, Dominic Conway and Alexander Scott. Yet it is their construction and delivery of a narrative that is unique and inspiring. Beautifully using the English language, whilst dipping into panto, they have created a theatre style that is clearly their own.

We were beaming from the moment the three piece brass band entered until the moment we went to sleep later that night. Wonderful as ever from Little Bulb. This is not one to miss!

Highlight of the piece – Dogdog’s return as an angel, making great use of the new space.

WIGS 4/5

Rotterdam by Jon Brittain at Trafalgar Studios

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We were lucky enough to be invited to the West End transfer of the Theatre 503 success, ‘Rotterdam’, that has moved to Trafalgar studios for a month long run. Written by playwright Jon Brittain this is a very modern story examining the love between two women and what happens when reveals that they are a man inside the wrong body.

Understandably this was an extremely complex play. On the morning of new year’s eve, Alice is mulling over an email she has been trying to write for a long time: a letter announcing her sexuality to her parents. She is at first reluctant to send it, eventually allowing her girlfriend Fiona to read it. Alice’s desire to be honest about the love she has for Fiona prompts her partner to be honest about the feelings she has about her gender. Having taken so long to accept her sexuality, the idea that the person she loves, Fiona, will soon become a man is challenging, thus sparking a very interesting and insightful story.

This was an extremely well-written play. It made us laugh and also brought us to the point of tears. The central relationship between Alice and Fi was fascinating. Subtle shifts in the relationship became evident as each character grappled with coming to terms with the new situation. These shifts occurred as rapidly as Fi’s transition. Surrounding the couple are two crucial characters. One is Josh, a sibling who added a lot of the humour to the piece and is positioned interestingly in the relationship between the two women. The other is a wild young Dutch girl, Lelani, who adds an additional layer of complexity to a hugely entertaining and moving piece of theatre.

The four cast members, Alice McCarthy, Anna Martine, Jessica Clark and Ed Eales-White were exceptional. Director Donnacadh O’Brian brilliantly sculpted this modern tale. The opening pre-set was a lovely start to the piece. It is always nice to get that little bit more for getting into your seat early.

This was a modern love story that defied social norms. It was original, truthful and entirely current for today’s society. Jon Brittain has written a modern classic with this piece of theatre. We are already looking forward to his next work.

Highlight of the piece – Alice and Lelani on the ice river, Josh’s gags and the harrowing fight between brother and sister…

WIGS 5/5

Impossible at the Noel Coward Theatre

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Big magic shows are few and far between on west end stages – for a good reason. It takes a very special blend of charisma, showmanship and, of course, original tricks in order to be truly successful in what must be one of the hardest areas of the entertainment industry. The ‘Impossible’ team are a group of magicians, illusionists, mind readers and daredevils who have come together to present a series of magical and thrilling feats.

Even by their own admission there wasn’t going to be much originality in their tricks. The spectre of Harry Houdini that hangs over all magicians loomed large over everything they attempted. His famous straitjacket escape, the water cabinet escape, to name a few, plus that classic, but tired, sawn-in-half body trick. These were old tricks that here fell far short of being impressive or even ‘impossible’.

Bringing together a group of magicians might seem like a good idea commercially, but as a result it diluted the effectiveness of the acts. Everything seemed so formulaic from the individual acts coming out one by one, to the ridiculous intensity of the ‘magic’ music pumping through the speakers at every possible moment. Most of them wasted too much time talking about magic as opposed to actually doing it. They all had real talent, but they did not all have the combination of original tricks, an ability to engage the audience, humour, charm and showmanship. It would have been better for them to focus on their individual talents. Ben Hart was an interesting example. Yes he had a reasonably entertaining speaking act but he really shone when doing his short mimed piece involving magic white balls. His skeletal fingers really captivated us in a way his speaking acts did not. The one truly impressive feat of the show was when he transported an audience member seemingly by electrical currents from a chamber on one side of the stage to a chamber on the other. It had us all fooled and was without doubt the show’s highlight.

Two magicians who did stand out were Magical Bones and Chris Cox. Magical Bones had a personal touch about everything he did and his Peckham jokes went down a treat, however, we would much rather have watched him on the street. The space felt wrong for his up-close style of street magic. Chris Cox had a boyish humour, an ability to keep the crowd engaged and a very remarkable mind reading act.

This show made us reflect on what it takes to be a great magician. More than just the tricks, you must have charisma, personality and showmanship. This was a very mixed show with high points and low points. Perhaps in the West End we expect to see a one-off theatrical phenomenon from a solo performer. 

Highlight of the show – Magical Bones and the electrical transporting of the audience member.

WIGS 2/5

The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy (Ad. Nancy Harris) at The Arcola Theatre

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Banned in Russia and America when it was first published, Tolstoy’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ made a return to London at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. Adapted by Nancy Harris, Greg Hicks takes the main role in this one man play of confession, marriage, and music.

A man sits alone in a train carriage and slowly recounts the life he had up until that point. He talks about growing up, meeting his wife and his marriage, and then the arrival at his house of an old school friend Trukhachevski, a talented violinist. The seeming relationship which develops between the wife and Trukhachevski induces an all-consuming jealousy in the husband,Pozdynyshev, and provokes a terrible crime. The narrative of the play examines our often conflicting fundamental instincts against a backdrop of music in this case, Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’. The sonata is played at a recital by the wife and Trukhachevski. The protagonist is transported beyond the baser human impulses feeding his jealousy to a place of paradox. There he is transformed by the power of the music itself whilst realising that he is excluded from the power of the music’s creation by the two performers.

Simply staged in the Arcola theatre, the three-sided audience space was challenging for a single actor but Greg Hicks did his best with this set up. Breaking from the convention of the script, the two musicians, a brilliant Alice Pinto and Phillip Grannell, came in with moments of music throughout the piece whenever Pozdynyshev referred to it. This was very effective in reinforcing the centrality of music to the drama. Two metallic strips hung above the stage  and extended outwards diagonally defining the space. Different bulbs with low lighting filaments hung above the audience and the piano giving off the glow of candles.

At times the lighting did a fraction too much for us, emphasising a change of tone for Pozdynyshev which we feel could have been achieved alone by the actor. Greg himself, gave a noble portrayal of the old Russian but sometimes the tone of his voice felt modern and out of place in this play written in 1889. However in portraying a man recounting his darkest secrets and the effect that they had had on him, his characterisation was spot on and he single handedly brought this story rivetingly to life.

As a whole, this production was extremely good and definitely worth seeing.

Highlight of the piece – Greg directing a line about a whore to women whose phone was going off in the front row.

WIGS 4/5

CUT by Duncan Graham at The Vaults

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Winner of the Best Theatre award at Adelaide Fringe 2015 and the Underbelly Adelaide Award 2015, CUT flew in from Australia for its first London performances at the Vaults as part of London Wonderground. Written by Duncan Graham and performed by Hannah Norris this was a dark and quite strange one-woman thriller.

A woman is preparing for work; she is a flight attendant. A man with eyes the colour of ash appears on her flight and follows her through the story. Eventually things build to a dark climax as the man turns up at her house and tries to rape the woman before she burns him to death as he sleeps.

Set in the traverse in a room covered entirely in cling film, this play started well with total blackouts plunging us into the unknown having only the women’s voice or a single light to give us some sense of direction. The use of (no) lighting was extremely effective. There are not many times in normal life, even in bed, when there is a complete absence of light so this was extremely powerful.

The story jumped from the woman’s internal experience, to her professional persona she uses when on board a plane. Ultimately we found it hard to stay on track with this piece. It seemed like the blackouts dominated the narrative and we were hoping something much more dramatic or scary would happen, like another actor appearing, but alas he never did. The most interesting thing to happen physically was when she obscured the audiences view of the stage with cling-wrap.

Maybe I was not the right person for this show with my predisposition for horror and thrillers. Maybe it could never have lived up to my expectations. However, there was some very good writing in this piece, and it certainly gave a very honest insight into the life of a flight attendant. A very good performance from Hannah in this piece of theatre that certainly pushed theatrical boundaries, but didn’t quite push hard enough for us.

Highlight of the piece – The very first blackout…

WIGS 3/5

Into The Woods by Stephen Sondheim at The Menier Chocolate Factory

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Putting on a classic is one thing. Putting on a classic musical is another thing altogether. Arguably Stephen Sondheim’s most famous musical, it was clear there would be a lot of demand for this new transfer from Fiasco Theatre. Indeed the hardcore fans were evident from their fancy dress.

All pretence at having a naturalistic forest was thrown out of the window and a far more interesting and elaborate vista of ropes was used at the back of the stage to represent the forest. This was in theory a simple, scaled down version of this musical, yet it was far more visually striking and imaginative than we were expecting. The performers, all actor-musos, jumped in and out of characters covering the whole cast with ten performers – the 11th was the pianist. A curtain rail with a pair of chintz curtains were used to costume the ugly sisters, a fox bust was used for the big bad wolf, whilst other items, hats and cloaks, were thrown on to define characters. This was magical. Special effects, wild sets and lighting do some things, but simple objects – like a feather duster chicken – are far more entertaining.

Like a taste for a fine wine, it has taken us many years to appreciate truly the genius of Stephen Sondheim and this was the first professional production of any of his shows we have seen live. His musicality is unique and his lyric writing is frightfully clever and witty.

Fiasco theatre have created an unbelievably charming version of this production. The multi-roling and use of instruments really showed off Sondheim’s genius, and for us there could not have been a better way to perform this musical. There were so many brilliant moments in this production, it is impossible to talk about them all. Everything from design to performance was absolutely exceptional and the little details and the subtler moments of performance were truly remarkable. For fans of Sondheim this has to be seen. However for fans of theatre in general this will go down extremely well.

Highlight of the piece – Played standing by a man, and identified by a cowbell, Milky White, almost stole the show with his every contribution.

WIGS 5/5

It Is Easy To Be Dead by Neil McPherson at The Finborough

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Compared to the other great poets who fought in the Great War, Charles Sorley is relatively unknown. Neil McPherson’s brand new play about the Scottish poet who died in the trenches on 13th October 1915 brought to life the young man and his brief experiences of the world in a subtle and sensitive way.

Neil weaves together the many poems and letters written to his friends and family to recreate the story of Sorley’s life, providing us with a real insight into the young man. His parents, when faced with his death at the opening of the play, must decide what to do with his letters and poems, and in delving into them, Charles comes back to life on stage narrating sections from his journals, poems and letters. In addition to the roles of Charles and his parents there are a singer and pianist who both sing and perform songs in English and German of the war time era. This musical touch added a beautiful extra layer to this insightful piece.

Alexander Knox is fantastic as the young poet displaying intelligence, humility and charisma that were no doubt fundamental characteristics of the late poet. His parents are played excellently by Jenny Lee and Tom Marshall.

This was a great creation from Neil McPherson introducing us to the voice of the brilliant, unsentimental and honest young Scot. It is a shame that this is now sold out, but it is a testament to the quality of this work. Beg, steal or borrow a ticket to this one!

Highlight of the show – Charles’ entrance, bounding onto the stage with a bolt of energy to deliver ‘The Song of The Ungirt Runners’.

WIGS 4/5

 

Eigengrau by Penelope Skinner at the Kings Head Theatre

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This was a brilliant revival of Penelope Skinner’s second play written in 2010. The story follows four twenty-somethings living in London, as they are brought together by, Gumtree, romance, and an incident with a stiletto.

This was a brilliant revival, coming from last year’s Brighton Fringe Festival. Hannah Joss has done a wonderful job, bringing theses characters to life in her fine choice of actors. There is sad, underwhelming Tim, feminist Cassie, confident Mark, and slightly mad Rose. The characters are brought together through Mark’s and Rose’s one night stands. The following day Mark actually find himself more attracted to the flatmate Cassie, whilst she sees him as a misogynistic city boy. Eventually a sort of relationship develops between them even though Rose cannot let go of Mark. Everything falls apart at which point Tim falls in love with Rose.

This was a charmingly written play, full of comedy and the sometimes sad human relations of young people today. We were left at the end debating whether or not Mark loved Cassie. We thought he did and were further convinced when we recalled that, Mark initially chose Earl Grey over Rose Hip on his first encounter with Cassie. He had initially asked for Rose Hip. Cassie Gray was clearly his choice.

The entire cast were spectacular with Annie Jackson, Lotti Maddox, James Sheldon and Nicholas Stafford as the four characters. Furthermore the decision to allow props and clutter to accumulate during the play seemed appropriate given the messy nature of life.

This was a really warm evening of theatre, despite one extremely shocking scene. Well done to Hannah and the whole team behind this timely revival of Eigengrau.

Highlight of the show – the perfect culmination of a gag involving Tim’s grandmother’s ashes and a cigarette butt.

WIGS 4/5

Savage by Claudio Macor at the Arts Theatre

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On the centenary of the battle of the Somme, where over a million people were killed, we headed to the Arts Theatre in London to see a play about the second world war, and an equally abhorrent moment in human history.

Savage was a play about Dr. Carl Vaernet, a Danish GP who claimed to have found the cure for homosexuality. Through his own and Denmark’s collusion with the Nazis, he was able to carry out a series of grossly inhumane procedures, which he believed rid a person of the ‘homosexual disease’. The play centred on his work but also on a gay couple in Copenhagen: Nikolai, a danish citizen, and Zack, an assistant at the American embassy. When caught late at night sharing a kiss on the streets, Nikolai is dragged off and ends up as one of Vaernet’s patients. Zack on the other hand is released due to his diplomatic immunity. There is also an interesting side story about a Nazi official in Copenhagen, who besides supervising all this, has to conceal his own sexuality.

This was definitely a story that needed to be told and warranted theatrical treatment. However the way this story was told was inferior to the merits of the story. Written by Claudio Macor, the play’s weaknesses lay in its form. Expectations about the passage of time during the play were confused by the action. It swept across a good 6 years, maybe, but some scenes seemed stuck in time. In other scenes, action and dialogue seemed normal whilst other moments whizzed by unnaturally. In addition, music was suddenly added, and set changes were clunky and distracting. In such a small space, the staging did not help the audience as sight-lines were restricted.

Despite all this however, there were positive aspects to the piece. The story about the Nazi general and cabaret artiste, Georg, was interesting and made the more compelling by fantastic performances from Bradley Clarkson and Lee Knight. There were in fact a number of excellent actors in this piece that raised the show above the quality of the text. Gary Fannin as the Danish doctor was wonderful in his ignorance and self-belief, whilst Nik Kyle was utterly compelling as the American, Zack.

Overall, this play seemed to have a bit of an identity crisis. Did it want to be a play or a screenplay? And what were the key stories within it? There was some fantastic acting, but there was also very wooden acting. There is a story in here, but we think it needs a bit of a reworking.

Highlight of the piece – Bradley Clarkson’s Nazi, showing us a troubled man in a very challenging situation.

WIGS 2/5

Tickets Under £15

It’s been a while since our last ‘Tickets Under £15’ post, and with summer well and truly under way, what better solution to mix up your summer pursuits than some awesome affordable theatre.

In Theatres Now

Thyestes – The Courtyard – £12/10 – Until 10 July (No shows 4 and 6)

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Lost and lonely in a starving, self-consuming world, watched only by hungry demons, Atreus longs to express himself. To destroy his father’s legacy and take revenge on his brother.

Eigengrau – Kings Head Theatre £15 students – until 11th July

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Four twenty-somethings try to connect in a city where Gumtree can feel like your closest friend. Rose believes in true love. Cassie fights against patriarchal oppression. Across London, Mark champions marketing and Tim can’t get out of bed.

Coming Soon

Peter Schlemiel – Theatre N16 £10/8 – 4-7 July

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Peter Schlemiel is the arresting and haunting story of an ordinary man who foolishly exchanges his shadow for endless fortune and fame, and must face the bitter consequences.

Beetles From The West – The Hope Theatre £15/12 – 5-23 July

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Beetles from the West looks at men’s’ health and the stigma associated with it, what happens to those indirectly affected by those that don’t speak out and the devastating effect of our pride getting in between those first symptoms and calling a doctor.

Further Afield 

The Winter’s Tale – Minack Theatre £11.50/9 – 11-15 July

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You will be transported from the dark court of a jealous king to the bright sunshine of a bohemian festival as we follow this heartbreaking story of redemption. With original live music, vivid design and the breathtaking backdrop of the sea at the Minack Theatre.

Half A Sixpence – Chichester Festival Theatre From £10 – 14 July – 3 September

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Half A Sixpence is the iconic British musical adaptation of H.G. Wells’s disguised autobiographical novel Kipps: The Story Of A Simple Soul, based on the author’s unhappy apprenticeship as a draper at Hyde’s Drapery Emporium in Southsea.

More affordable theatre to come soon…