A Year From Now by Red Belly Black Theatre Company at VAULT Festival

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VAULT Festival, comprising six weeks of live entertainment, began this week at the amazing subterranean venue The Vaults under Waterloo Station.

I was there to see A Year from Now, performed by Red Belly Black Theatre Company, who had asked fourteen people the following question: Where do you see yourself a year from now? The answers to this and other questions are presented in the show verbatim, in other words as a ‘lip synch’, along with physical movement and dance.

First we meet the five actors in their own voices, who introduce themselves and give some lively personal details. This is then subverted when the audio begins of other people’s answers, and the actors mouth the words to their voices, in groups or individually, and sometimes sharing the same voice between them.

There are particular scenarios and characters which work extremely effectively. I was really taken by the elegant old lady, played by Oscar Scott-White with some lovely gestures and who can now count her friends on one hand. Her husband, in his nineties, played by Clementine Mills, said he started to feel old when he got to eighty. They are a touching pair, and when we meet them again towards the end of the piece and the lady is reminiscing about being young and having lots of friends, we are reminded of the best things in life.

I also really enjoyed Scott-White as a teenage girl, who brought out, with much comedy and the perfect girlish stance, the importance of having good eyebrows at school, but also the poignancy of living between two parents and having to carry her stuff between them.

We also meet some victims of trauma, for instance the woman who has undergone radiotherapy and become pregnant against the odds (Jessica Warshaw) and who tells us she has had to learn how to do everything again. Warshaw is amazing at timing the dry yet tinkly laugh of this survivor, and we hope that news will be as good in another year from now. All of the participants in this scene remind us to be thankful for the life and the health that we have, before we lose them.

Another favourite character is the comedian (voiced by both Christopher Montague and Warshaw) whose mother has died. The way they share the voice is very clever, and the direction by Vicki Baron is very moving as they literally hold each other as they both speak the words.

I liked the idea that children were included, but I enjoyed this depiction less; it reminded me too much of a Haribo Tangfastics advert. I preferred Kate Goodfellow (who is the Producer/ Choreographer of the show, and the Artistic Director of Red Belly Black) in the role of the new mum. With her partner Montague, they are a couple totally unprepared for parenthood. This is nicely expressed and, again, impeccably timed.

There are parts which don’t seem necessary, like some dancing between scenes, and parts that don’t work so well, like the children. However, A Year from Now shows very well that verbatim theatre can be a creative vehicle to explore themes in an authentic way. The talent of these performers brings out some genuinely moving moments and at times I had to pinch myself to remember that the person in front of me mouthing the words was not actually speaking them. I am interested to see what this company gets up to next.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

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Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road by Keith Stevenson at The White Bear Theatre

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Walking into the White Bear Theatre above the pub of the same name in Kennington, you find yourself inside a messy, retro, rundown motel room. This is the living space of JD, the character at the centre of the play, Fried Meat Ridge Road, being the name of the road where he lives, and an actual road in Keyser, West Virginia.

There is a knock at the door and we meet Mitchell (Robert Moloney). Mitchell isn’t having such a great day. He’s lost his job, been living in his car since he was kicked out by his girlfriend, and now the car has been torched. He has responded to JD’s advert for a housemate, expecting there to be a separate room, not simply a second bed. JD is basically looking for a new buddy. He has a fridge stocked with mini vodkas and cans of Mountain Dew and will offer a comforting tunafish sandwich to anyone who looks like they need one.

In the next hour Mitchell experiences a whole lot of new things. Like a hillbilly farce, everybody comes and goes in this room, the door opens and slams closed to let people in and out. There are the neighbours Marlene (Melanie Gray) – a meth-smoking artist; her man Tommy (Dan Hildebrand) – a poet who is cheating on her with another rather heavy Marlene; the landlord Flip (Michael Wade) who has a racist insult for everyone. Mitchell is a great character, anxious and nervy, with excessively sweaty palms. After a couple of vodkas, he starts to fit right in.

This play is a cult success in the States where it has played at the Pacific Resident Theater in California since it was first developed there in 2011. The piece was written by Keith Stevenson, who actually grew up in Keyser, WV, and who still plays JD. No, he is JD! His depiction is so perfect, from the lilting speech to the gentle way he calls people ‘brother’ and only sees the good in folks. JD is ‘out there’ in many ways but all you really need to know about him is that he doesn’t judge anyone. What matters to JD is being a good person, helping his brother man, and seeing the good in them, even if they are a wasted meth addict or a philandering hothead.

There is plenty of action with police, a hostage situation, drugs and guns. There is even a quite surreal moment of dancing to ‘Can you Feel It?’ which the audience did not seem entirely sure about but which drew tears from my eyes from laughter. How prescient that I had only just listened to that song on my journey there. The whole cast is amazing, but it’s really JD who stands out for me. I could have listened to his views on life for days, with that lovely turn of phrase.

The writing is excellent and truly funny. What stays with me is the way my heart was fully warmed. I hope the run is a great big success. I want to see a lot more of the kind and charming JD who might not look much, but is happy with what he has and can tenderly make anyone feel better about their own no-good life.

WIGS 4/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

Richard III by Godot’s Watch at the Rosemary Branch

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Doing Shakespeare is hard, very hard. To convey all the meaning, subtlety and narrative while engaging the audience is no easy task, especially when a small company is limited by financial restraints.

That said, Godot’s Watch, Séan Aydon’s new theatre company made up of Manchester School of Theatre graduates, have made a noble attempt at Richard III at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. With the help of some very effective sound and lighting they have sent a bolt of electricity through Shakespeare’s play.

The opening scene was electric with the audience bolted by a flash of light from the four vertical lights at the back of the space. Richard (Sam Coulson) enters, as you would expect a Richard III to enter, but this particular manifestation of the limp was extremely effective. With the help of some subtle mic-ing and a very very low light, the power of his opening monologue was delivered to perfection. Such moments were regular throughout the performance. Important monologues and scenes were set off by effective music, mic-ing and lighting creating immense dramatic impact.

However, many of the main ensemble scenes and expositional sections failed to engage us and we found our mind wandering in these moments. At times it felt like the text was being rushed and one scene in particular did not benefit from the backing sound. A bit too much aisle acting showed bold direction and a desire for a bigger space, but gave us a crick in the neck. There were some contemporary references: the mobile phones were very effective, the coke less so. The mobile phones in particular helped to highlight the rhetorical nature of the writing. Richards moment with Siri was particularly enjoyable. This rhetorical writing also came out in a sort of Sméagol/Gollum take on one of the murderers.

The real moments of drama came, however, from the extremely visual storytelling, made the more effective by the technical elements. The murder of the Duke of Clarence and the murder of Lady Anne were very powerful and particularly dark given the musical accompaniment to the second murder. The ending of Act One was extremely visceral and memorable.

All in all this production showed great promise. The direction was extremely tight and the use of light and sound was of a quality you rarely see in theatre. It verged on cinematic at times, and I wondered what an exclusively visual production would be like. Certainly the promo trailer did a good job at enticing us to the show. Shakespeare – it’s a tough gig though. But this was a very good attempt.

WIGS 3/5

Tickets! £15 and Under!

In life, there is always time for theatre. Especially when reality starts to take a turn for the worse, what better solution than heading along to your local theatre for some theatre treats. Even better when those theatre treats cost less £15! Here we round up our latest bunch of new theatre which you can indulge in for less than fifteen pounds!

Out Now

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Rd. – The White Bear Theatre £15/12 (17 Jan – 4 Feb)

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Mitchell answers an ad for a roommate and finds himself in a backwoods West Virginia motel with JD, an affable hillbilly of mysterious origins. Soon JD’s neighbours – curmudgeonly Flip, meth-head Marlene, and her hot-headed beau, Tommy – have all but taken over the tiny room. Mitchell finds himself in a hopeless predicament. Hopeless but for the power of dance…?

 

Coming Soon

The Taming Of The Shrew – The Cockpit £10 (23-27 Jan)

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Get Over It Productions all female production is set in 1989 at the height of the rave culture. This promises to be a Shrew like no other….

Fantastic Mr Fox – Hammersmith Lyric £15 (25 Jan – 19 Feb)

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Mr Fox is smart, clever and rather fantastic, but he doesn’t realise how determined the farmers are to get revenge. Can he hatch a plan to save his family and friends? Can they outrun the diggers and outsmart the farmers? And can Rabbit shut up long enough not to give the game away?

Hearing Things – Clapham Omnibus £12/10 (31 Jan – 4 Feb)

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Hearing Things is based on five years of collaboration with both staff and patients in mental health institutions, drawing together the stories, dilemmas and challenges faced by the ‘healthy’ and the ‘ill’ in communities whose voices are seldom heard.

On The Horizon

Blood & Bone – The Vaults £12 (15-19 Feb)

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Part political satire, part pixar movie, Blood & Bone is a dark and cheeky adult puppet show. Combining puppets, puns & poor taste to guarantee you’ll soil yourself. After all: Life’s a prick.

This Is Not Culturally Specific – The Vaults £12 (15-19 Feb)

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This Is Not Culturally Significant is an intense and darkly comic one-man show which unveils the bizarre, compulsive and eccentric nature of humanity. Over ten characters are portrayed; from a pathologically lying classics professor to a despondent American porn star on the brink of her retirement.

The Witches by Roald Dahl at The West Yorkshire Playhouse

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This production of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’ packs lots of laughs, plenty of energy and a dash of menace. It is a fast-paced piece featuring elements of farce, musical theatre and panto.

The audience is very swiftly made aware that Dahl’s characteristic dark undertones will not be watered down. This was declared in the opening musical number which made me laugh out loud as we were told to beware beware those around us. It is an opening that borders on the unhinged as the song morphs from a sweet, unassuming ditty into a chaotic melody dotted with manic cackles. It certainly makes an impression and this sudden change of atmosphere runs throughout, but don’t be put off – children will love it. For those scared as a child by the movie, allow me to re-assure you: the witches in this production are far more funny than fearsome!

Musical numbers punctuated the plot well and were a complete and joyous surprise. They were lively, well written and often very funny. There were also elements of panto (a nod to the season and not yet incongruous in early January), with audience interaction required at various points. Festive bunting and colourful Broadway- style lights (additional residuals of the Christmas season I presume) decorate the stage and above the audience, creating a pleasant, intimate setting. The set itself is simple but effective, making good use of a platform atop the ‘treehouse’ throughout. Most props are simple and a few more complex designs provide some magical moments of trickery (mice flying and witches disappearing into broth being the most memorable – but I shan’t give too much away). Perhaps most importantly, with the help of smoke, mirrors and the occasional flash-bang, all of Dahl’s imaginative transformations are there. After all, how successful could a version of ‘The Witches’ be without believable transformations? And on that note, the highly anticipated scenes featuring the witches at the all-important meeting do not disappoint

Jenna Augen proves to be that special brand of actress capable of playing a totally credible old, wise character. There’s no need for the token grey wig and stick as she embodies old Grandma in voice, posture and just enough outrageous honesty to allow her young natural appearance to be masked by the magic of great acting (with a little help from costuming). Fox Jackson Keen is likewise a very believable young boy despite being as tall as his grandma. He plays the role with innocent naivety and was clearly loved by the young audience. His gymnastic capabilities are perfectly suited for the transformation into a mouse and, along with the rest of the cast his contributions to the musical numbers are wonderful. Bruno, played by Jonny Weldon makes a wonderful counterpart and the comedy created by the two was palpably a firm favourite with the excitable little ones around me. Weldon also provides plenty of humour in his shameless gluttony, physical gags and somewhat adolescent petulance.

Sarah Ingram is a mildly vicious Grand High Witch with a powerful death stare and perfectly timed comical ticks. She achieves giggles and tense silences by turns and despite a few jarring losses of the famous vitch’s accent, she makes a splendid villain. Perhaps Ingram’s most impressive gift to this production though, is her beautiful, rafter-ringing vocals that had great impact in both the fun and fearsome songs. A real stand-out in this production is Harveen Mann, who gives each of his multiple roles an impressive layer of energy. Nicola Hawkins is most notable for her powerful operatic voice but her depictions of witches and waiters are equally impressive. Finally, Bobby Delaney is a source of many laughs while portraying a range of roles, both female and male. Guaranteeing laughs as a man in a dress, his dead-pan commentary and affected dramatics are a hit, complimented by his musical abilities.

There are a few moments when the energy dips a little but this is ultimately a great kids’ show which is as entertaining for the chaperones as it is for the kids. It’s an energetic piece of theatre with colourful costumes, trickery to stun the imaginations of little ones and a well selected running time of 80 minutes (including a 15 minute interval). The show benefits from a cast who are accomplished in musical skills, gymnastics and multi-rolling. Add to these ingredients some great comic acting and some of Roald Dahl’s most beloved and feared characters, and you have a show well worth seeing by all the family.

You can catch ‘The Witches’ at West Yorkshire Playhouse until 21 January.

WIGS 4/5

By Strolling Elizabeth
(AlwaysTimeForTheatre)

Abigail by Fiona Doyle at The Bunker Theatre

 

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My first assignment for Ginger Wig and Strolling Man, is Abigail, the play that closes the inaugural season of the newest off-West End theatre in town. The 110-seater studio opened in October, and Abigail is the world premiere of Irish writer Fiona Doyle’s new play, directed by Joshua McTaggart.

The play is a two-hander that centres on the relationship between one man (played by Mark Rose) and one woman (Tia Bannon). Their names are not disclosed although we may guess at the woman’s from her fit of pique at his failure to remember her name from their first meeting. The scenes are quick-fire, moving between the past and present. From the outset it is clear that this is no smooth ride love affair. Her emotions and actions are changeable and volatile. We witness one loving moment, which swiftly turns into a vicious statement and ultimately becomes something physical.

I found Bannon chillingly and believably good and, in particular, the way she changed her expression and action in a fraction of a second. The backstory is not explicitly told. In fact I am still not sure exactly what happened, and why, and this is obviously the intention of the writer. What definitely comes across is a psychotic edge to the woman, and the likelihood that this stems from an earlier trauma.

Max Dorey’s set is made up of what looks like packing cases, which are used intermittently to store props and the jacket and coat which help to denote the different time periods. The cleverest use of one of these cases starts as an entrance resembling a doorway and then becomes a shower, seemingly with running water. into which the man steps.

Andy Josephs’ sound design uses music well. For a start, the man is wearing a Nirvana t-shirt placing him in a certain age band and certainly quite a bit older than her. Then, the snippets in the background are of Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’. We hear the refrain, ‘you’re gonna be the one that saves me’ which, as we find out in the last scene, sums up the key theme in the play. Loving someone should not really be about saving someone, should it?

Abigail is an absorbing hour’s watch and the parts are played well by the two actors. However there is something missing. It is either from the fact that so much is left untold or it is because the staging on three sides meant simply that I just missed something. Needless to say, it is great to see new writing in a new space, and it is definitely worth looking out for the next season at the Bunker Theatre.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

The Ginger Wig of the Year Award 2016 and the Top Ten Shows of the Year

It was a tremendous year of theatre for the Ginger Wig in 2016…

We have witnessed some breathtaking productions and performances this year in some of the best theatres in the country, as well as in pubs, hotels, on the side of a cliff, in rundown flats and in the open air. So many shows stand out, but sadly we can only award one Ginger Wig Award.

Now let it be said that it is no easy feat to get on this list as we see a ridiculous amount of theatre each year, as well as comedy, performance art, opera, ballet, musicals, mime, and more, so even to get close to our top ten is an incredible achievement. So without further ado…

10. Lucky Stiff, Ahrens/Flaherty, Drayton Arms Theatre

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Lucky Stiff is a riot of a musical, pulling together a most outrageous story and hilarious song and dance numbers. Put together by MKEC Production it was performed by a tremendous cast of singer actors.

9. BUG, Tracey Letts, Found111

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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.

8. Apocalypse Cruise Ship Love Affair, Beach Comet, Above The Arts Theatre

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A trip to Apocalypse Cruise Ship Love Affair is a trip to musical comedy heaven. This show is jam-packed with outstanding jokes, devised by writer/director Theo McCabe, and it keeps the energy flowing from one cleverly directed moment to the next.

7. The Rules of Inflation, Balloons Theatre, Theatre N16

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We loved so much about this show particularly the space in between the chairs, ostensibly creating personal space, but in fact creating isolation and distance between audience members. There was nowhere to hide. Children’s games being subverted by an unstable sociopathic clown – what’s not to love about that? The smell of fabric softener from Blue’s balloon miscarriage, surreptitiously seeped into our nostrils, affecting the one sense so overlooked in theatre.

6. The Queen of Spades, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Opera Holland Park

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An outstanding production of this tragic opera with the main roles taken by Peter Wedd and Natalya Romaniw. Wedd’s Herman had extraordinary presence with both poignancy and obsession combined with great effect in this hero who moves relentlessly towards a terrible end.

5. Ross, Terence Rattigan, 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. 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 a world away from that in which Lawrence lived and which gave him his appellation, Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a brilliant dramatic juxtaposition.

4. Operation Black Antler, Blast Theory/Hydrocracker, Brighton Festival

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This was a truly remarkable piece of immersive theatre. There was a feeling of tension and excitement throughout this piece, generated from the first moment. Every element of this piece was meticulously planned, form the people briefing us, to the world in the Rose Hill Tavern to the performance of the characters we met within. Without doubt this was the best ‘theatre game’ in which we have participated.

3. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Lee Hall, The National

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A phenomenal piece of theatre that combines stunning musical talent, heartbreakingly human portrayals and almost incomprehensibly thick Scottish accents. Our Ladies was full of impressive harmonies, no holds-barred characterisation and was a night that socked the audience in the mouth and left them wanting more.

2. The Encounter, Complicite, The Barbican

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It is very rare in theatre that a really important story is told in such a fantastic way. This is the true essence of great theatre and is exactly what Complicite have created here with The Encounter. A momentous production, questioning all the values that we hold dear, possession, communication, consciousness and time.

And so the Ginger Wig of The Year Award 2016 goes to…

1. A Midsummers Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare, The Globe

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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.