Vote Revolt & A Game of Chaos by Jessica Bailey and Terri Donovan at Theatre N16

 

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On Thursday 26th June 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union and even though a year has passed, the subject is still on everyone’s minds as we wait to see the effects of Article 50 being triggered. This divisive topic has clearly been on the minds of the writers of Vote Revolt and A Game of Chaos as the two pieces aim to question our reasons for voting and the motivation behind our choices.

Split into two, the night begins with Vote Revolt, an extract from a longer piece by Jessica Bailey. The play follows a group of teenagers as they await their offers from university. Grouped together in politics, one boy breaks away, choosing to stay on the side of “remain”, making him the black sheep of the group. Being an extract from a longer piece, the play is confusing and somewhat underwhelming, with the cliff-hanger not being much of a cliff-hanger at all. The characters are unclear and the storyline seemed shallow, with very little depth or philosophy for the audience to get their teeth into. This felt lazy, especially given their topic of choice and the questions and debates around it. We must however, remember that this is just a twenty-minute snippet and for this reason I can only assume (and hope) that there is much more excitement and plotline to come.

After a rather quick end to Vote Revolt and a poor transition, came A Game of Chaos by Terri Donovan; a wannabe Big Brother-esque, improvised game that sees the same actors trapped in a room that can only be left if one sticks to the rules of the game and completes the given quests. The rules consist of things such as listening only to Queen songs, a minute of silence, a discussion on something one is passionate about and most importantly, an objective that is given to them by a member of the audience. The irony of this was that the actors failed to stick to the rules of the game or complete their quests. They seemed to become so submerged in their improvisation that they forgot that they had a direction and an outcome in which the show needed to go in. It became ever-so-slightly embarrassing when the cast had to be reminded through a recorded tannoy announcement of their objectives in order to get them back on track. Even this, however, failed to work, leaving no other choice for the performance to finish in a very random, baffling and inexplicable way. In fact, even the actors didn’t seem to know if they had finished or not, making it very awkward for the audience to watch.

A game of chaos it certainly is and if what the company are trying to do is get us thinking about voting or the caging of Brexit, then unfortunately it failed to work this evening. Improvisation is a skill that should be highly commended and when done well is excellent to watch but unfortunately this just didn’t work and felt more like a group of actors enjoying a bit of make-it-up-as-you-go-along-acting.

The topic of both plays is important and highly relevant to today and it is great that the company are trying to tackle this subject and bring it to the stage but more thought and consideration needs to be injected. From the gaps in the script to the shoddy making of props, the production is messy and like the venue, needs a new lick of paint and a bit of TLC. The company clearly feel passionate about it, as they should but in truth, the whole thing kind of felt a bit like a private joke between friends and completely alien to the outsiders.

WIGS 1/5

By Grace Ward

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2 Become 1 by Swipe Right Theatre at the Kings Head

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In my other life I put on 70’s and 80’s nights, and up till now I hadn’t seen the appeal of a 90’s night. But I had such a good time at 2 Become 1 by Swipe Right Theatre company that it has now gone right to the top of the list.

You first have to leave any desire for a plot at the door of the King’s Head Theatre. There is the beginning of one but it peters out without you even realising it, as you are having so much fun. Jess (Natasha Granger) has been dumped and left heartbroken by a boyfriend and her three best friends think the solution is to go out speed dating. The next hour follows them in a dating scenario, which basically means they tell us their views on men, sing a lot of songs and do a lot of indecent thrusting and wiggling, I mean dancing.

A big spotlight shines on each one of them in turn as they talk about themselves to the unheard person on the other side of the table – which allows us to find out about the characters of the girls. They are quite stereotypical – for instance, Charlie (Eliza Hewitt-Jones) is sex-mad, Amanda (Jessica Brady) just wants a long-term commitment – but still the characters are done well and they positively reek of the 90’s in their platform wedges and tiny dresses. My personal favourite is Molly (Kerrie Thomason, one of the founding members of Swipe Right Theatre company, along with Granger). She says she’s the dim one but in fact she comes up with some of the truest lines in the whole play. Thomason is very funny and the expressions on her face tell a million stories.

The dating chats are interspersed with some short scenes and some very funny songs which, depending on your age, you might well remember (I sang along to practically every one). Between scenes we also hear a voiceover of some dubious men and their chauvinist opinions about what they are looking for in their perfect woman. This is perfect for getting the audience to scream at the stage, but otherwise I didn’t really understand why all the men were such idiots with such sexist views. Moreover, I wanted our girls to realise they could have a good time without worrying about where to snag a man or what a man might think of them. Maybe heterosexual dating really was like this in 1997.

The absolute highlight is the musical aspect of 2 Become 1. Despite assumptions from the title and the fashion in the marketing of the show, this is not all about the Spice Girls. We do have excerpts from 2 Become 1 and Wannabe, but also the girls perform a whole load of hits from the 90’s which take you right back there and some of them have a whole new spin on them. We hear from girl bands from All Saints to Destiny’s Child, there’s a hilarious imitation of Britney Spears and a couple of hits from Shania Twain (there’s a classic scene where Molly interacts with the audience for That don’t impress me much), along with other massive tunes from Cher, Christina Aguilera and so many more. You have never seen a version of No Scrubs like this one, sat on the loo and singing into toilet brushes, and you will laugh your head off at the Celine Dion take off from Titanic, tin whistle accompaniment and all.

This latter scene is so funny. It involves Amanda and the crush she has only seen on the bus before. She picks on a man in the front row of the theatre who is obviously there with his male partner. They are both such good sports that neither of them mind when Brady sits right on his lap, facing him, and sharing his drink, and when she invites him on stage for the crowning glory of My Heart Will Go On, his boyfriend stands up too to capture the whole thing on his phone. In fact both of them end up on stage for the medley finale!

If you were the ‘right age’ during the 90’s, even if you don’t think you enjoyed the music at the time, 2 Becomes 1 looks back on this period with such gentle comedy that you will find yourself having a lot of fun. The references of Justin and Britney, Cosmo magazine, Blockbusters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer make you realise quite how long ago the 90’s really were. Don’t go and see this for a complicated plot or a deep character analysis, but get a bunch of friends together, and enjoy it for what it is – a feel-good trip back in time to the pop music and dating mores of the 1990’s. And support the King’s Head Theatre while you are at it!

WIGS 4/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

Joan by Lucy J Skilbeck at the Ovalhouse

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I doubt you have seen a depiction of Joan of Arc before like the one currently performed at the Ovalhouse by Lucy Jane Parkinson, aka professional drag king LoUis CYfer. She appears in solo show Joan, a Milk Presents production, written and directed by Lucy J Skilbeck.

The Ovalhouse is set out in the round, with cabaret seating in the front rows. This gives ample opportunity for Joan to interact with the audience, which she does to great effect. At first, she is disarming when she asks for somebody’s seat and makes them move, to make way for Catherine (Saint Catherine, who appeared to Joan in visions and whose guiding voice Joan heard throughout her life). Then she is funny as she asks to borrow somebody’s phone to phone Catherine to find out where she is. Later still, she asks more and more of us – one man is asked to walk like a man so she can copy his walk; another has to act like a potential mate when her father is trying to marry her off. The whole audience has to get involved in a battle scene: Joan quite naturally gets a crowd of people bellowing like horses, shooting crossbows, stamping their feet, one woman even has to be a canon exploding. I think my section really wowed her with our men’s chanting choir.

The play deals with the question of identity, and gender identity at that, with Joan playing not only the famous ‘Maid of Orléans’ herself, but also three of the men in her life. The first is her father; we see her quick transformation before our very eyes, using one of four full-length mirrors at each corner of the performance space to don cap, jacket and beard. The next male she becomes is the Dauphin Charles, who Joan has gone to meet ready with her big speech. This is the funniest moment in the play, as a discoball appears overhead, and Parkinson as the moustachioed Dauphin delivers a hilarious song whilst gyrating in golden jacket and shorts. ‘Je m’appelle Charles’, he sings, and then gives Joan an army.

This would not work without Parkinson. She is a natural and engaging performer who you can’t take your eyes off. One minute she is describing Catherine’s voice, ‘as if sunrise had a sound’, and Joan’s face lifts up as if in a trance; the next she is talking conspiratorially with the audience whilst fixing a fake beard onto her face, and turning her bra into a bulge in her shorts. At one point I could see that, as she was delivering one of her rousing speeches about not fitting in, an audience member near to her was visibly nodding, identifying with her words.

Joan is an entertaining, accessible way to meet France’s famous female warrior which had me wiping my eyes from both laughter and tears. But more than that, Lucy Jane Parkinson and the skilful writing by Lucy J Skilbeck turns Joan’s herstory into a moving drama of a brave woman whose cross dressing (probably for quite practical reasons) leads her to be burnt at the stake for heresy. For both queer and heterosexual audiences, this is a must-see.

WIGS 4/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

The Plague by Albert Camus at the Arcola

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Albert Camus wrote La Peste in 1947, likening the rise of Nazism in Europe to a plague, and the novel became a classic almost immediately. Today in 1917, director Neil Bartlett has adapted the novel for our times at a moment when the global landscape is shifting in alarming ways.

The Plague at the Arcola Theatre begins with two tables on stage set out as if at a public enquiry, with some desk lamps and chairs but nothing else on stage. The characters appear one at a time, some with papers in hand, the woman Dr Rieux (Sara Powell) the main focus, referring back to her notes and reporting as clinically as possible what has happened. At certain moments somebody might take a microphone as if to emphasise a point, but the lighting and the set remain minimal and this was the director’s intention, in order to emphasise Camus’s words (none of the words deviate from Camus’s original).

Dr Rieux stands to address us all in the audience and starts to describe what happened at first, how seeing one dead rat one day turns into seeing many rats falling over and dying, choking blood, in the street and how the disease spreads to humans, soon hundreds a day. As well as the doctor, who is given much humanity and strength by Sara Powell, we meet amongst others Mr Grand (Burt Caesar), who is attempting in vain to write his estranged wife a letter, and the journalist Raymond Rambert (Billy Postlethwaite) who becomes trapped within the city walls once they are closed to prevent further spreading of the plague.

With the terrifying velocity of the disease, we are swept along with the need to know what ultimately happens. The sound (by Dinah Mullen) gives a background of sirens, the frantic atmosphere of chaos, the squeaking of rats and then people as they are asphyxiated by the disease. A piano chord is played out at intervals which measures out the passing time. As things worsen, and the disease moves from the poor to the more affluent areas, the dead are lying in the streets, nameless, and then instead of proper burials they are burnt in ovens. We watch throughout the night as a serum is given to a dying child, which only serves to make him die more slowly, and we are there when Mr Grand finally starts to lose it. It paints a dark picture of how people survived during this time, and how the collective consciousness changed. “It made us forget what we knew.”

Then, as suddenly as it takes hold, the plague starts to lessen.   “Hope is so cruel”, says the doctor, but hope never dies, even at times of such fear and, despite the fact that loved ones have died, people must survive, they must carry on. As the gates to the city are re-opened and our characters hear celebrations, Dr Rieux explains that that was the moment she decided to write everything down, to bear witness to what had happened during this time: “There is more to admire about one’s fellow citizens than to despise or despair of”.

Neil Bartlett’s adaptation of Camus’s allegory is chillingly relevant today, and it is disturbing to witness how quickly the situation gets out of control, and normal behaviours are forgotten. The Plague works on its audience in many different, personal ways however I believe Bartlett is really asking us to beware, to speak out against injustices and cruelties as we see them. After all, in Rieux’s closing speech, the plague is only lying dormant, until it once more “rouses its rats and sends them forth to die in some unsuspecting city”.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

Sublime by Sarah Thomas at the Tristan Bates Theatre

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Sublime is a new play by Sarah Thomas, directed by Ben SantaMaria, which has had its first run at the Tristan Bates Theatre. It is a story about two siblings who carry out heists together.

Sam and Sophie are brother and sister and have grown up in a criminal lifestyle, mentored by their uncle Vic after their mother died. Sophie has been away for 2 years, latterly in Corsica, and Sam hardly seems to be over the moon to see her again. Sam makes out as if he has settled down to an office job and a girlfriend who is ignorant of his previous life, however we find out later on that he has continued to dabble in crime. Sophie reveals that she has reappeared due to some bad business in Corsica, which requires her to find a great deal of money by the end of the week. Sam is lured back to working on three jobs with her, culminating in a very big trick which involves stealing some of the jewellery from the Hatton Garden heist (the real one which happened in 2015) from a club in South London called Sublime.

There are a lot of good things to say about Sublime. Sophie is played by Adele Oni and holds your attention throughout. She is seductive and sexy and moves around the stage confidently (no doubt due in part to her training as a dancer). I also enjoyed the laughs given by Sam’s straight-laced, paleo-dieting girlfriend Clara (Suzy Gill), who is also quite a poignant character: Sam is not exactly being honest with her, and when we meet her father (Declan Cooke) we see that he hardly treats her nicely either.

There is great potential in the writing, however there are holes in the plot and I would have preferred a shorter, snappier version of the two acts and over two hours that we have here. For instance, without giving away too much, Sophie is supposed to be on a deadline to get thousands of pounds together by Sunday and, when this doesn’t quite happen, there do not seem to be any repercussions or fear of repercussions. Without this fear or some pretty bad consequences, the whole drive of the play doesn’t work. There is also the sub-plot about the relationship between the brother and sister. It is clear that it is not a usual relationship, and the hints about the incestuous love are not subtle, but it seems to overpower the plot about the heist. Sarah Thomas is so keen to avoid an expected ending that, after it is all over, I find myself wondering what actually happened in the end with the Hatton Garden jewels, why was there a sub-plot about the platinum ring, and what was the point about the wine deal and Clara’s father?

I understand there are limitations in a theatre, with a cast of four, but you never see any details of what goes on in a heist. It sometimes feels a bit like the two main characters can talk the talk, but you also want to see them walk the walk.

I am full of admiration for any young playwright and with just a bit more editing I think Sublime will improve yet. Its cast does a good job, particularly Adele Oni. I hear that Thomas is writing the screenplay for Sublime the film. Watch out for it!

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

The Mutant Man by Christopher Bryant at The Space Arts Centre

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The Mutant Man is a play that has taken playwright Christopher Bryant years of research to write, and a crowdfunding project to make it to the stage. The Space Arts Centre, housed in a converted church in the Isle of Dogs, has made a bold choice to present it. It tells the true story of a female-to-male transgender man (before the term transgender existed) in Australia who was convicted of the murder of his wife. This is not what makes it bold, but rather the fact that one man and one woman play her/him at different points in her/his story, as well as other characters; also the timeline skips back into flashback mode.

The story itself is fascinating, that is for sure, but due to the way it is presented, and the difficulty of the props and the methods, it was not clear to me what was happening and who was who. I have had to read up about the actual story since I came away. The actors are talented, that is not the problem, but with a story that is not naturally clear, and which is trying to make interesting points about gender identification and dysphoria, taking off a jacket did not mean I understood who the next character was. This might mean that I am not very gifted at following a plot, but it is also unlikely to mean that I would be the only one in this position.

The presentation is attractive and interesting to watch in the former church. The two actors stand before us and at times mirror each other, delivering some rather poetic lines; at other times we see video projections on the large back wall, or magnified film of something happening live on the desks before them. However the actors, Clementine Mills and Matthew Coulton, seem uncomfortable at times with the angles of their microphones, and having to keep moving and positioning standard lamps and cameras themselves.

In actuality, Eugene Falleni (born Eugenia and also known as Harry Crawford) married a woman named Annie Birkett, who did not realise that her husband was not cisgender male until close to her death. When she was told the truth by a neighbour, it seemed that she intended to end the marriage, but during the argument with Falleni about it, she slipped and hit her head on a rock. This is the murder trial which is at the centre of the play and which shoots Falleni into the public spotlight which he is not prepared for.

The play is not afraid to be candid about the issue that the couple made love without one of them realising the true gender of the other. There is obviously a prosthetic phallus involved, as well as frustration on Falleni’s part that his wife could not feel ‘the real me’.

The Mutant Man is described as LGBT theatre and, although the phrase does not ring quite true as the era pre-dates the term (Falleni was born in 1875 and died in 1938), it definitely belongs to the movement of genderqueer, non-binary theatre which has recently gained momentum. In this respect it is important that it should be seen and performed, and to present it in such a challenging way is a brave move. However the complexity of the subject maybe requires a less abstract re-enactment, otherwise the likes of me just can’t keep up.

WIGS 2/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

Rounds by Resuscitate Theatre at the Blue Elephant Theatre

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On arrival at the lovely Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell, we receive with the programme a leaflet from the Doctors’ Support Network, which provides support to young doctors. The words ‘eating disorder’, ‘stress’, ‘depression’, ‘psychosis’ and ‘bipolar disorder’ are emblazoned on the front of it. We know we are not about to witness another episode of Carry on Doctor.

Rounds is relevant and moving theatre at a time of desperate crisis in the NHS. It has been devised by the ensemble at Resuscitate Theatre after conversations with junior doctors and members of the medical profession, and was coincidentally first being developed at the time when the junior doctors were first striking in 2016.

It follows a group of junior doctors on their first days and weeks on the job. A major point highlighted by the play is the way young people who have just graduated from college are asked to make decisions on a daily basis which might literally be a matter of life or death. Add to this the fact that they are still learning the myriad facts about diseases and their diagnoses, they are battling with sexist and racist attitudes on the hospital floor, and they are navigating love and life (and even how to find the way round the hospital), and it’s no wonder that they need to find ways to deal with stress. Dr Clarke (Christina Carty) drinks too much and Dr Wright (Penelope Rodie) finds herself slipping back to an anxious state of mental health which she has previously known as a student.

It is one thing, studying medicine. As one of the lines goes, putting it into practice is an entirely different matter. The studying continues on the job, yet with severe consequences for every decision. We see the reality of this when Dr Jenkins (Adam Deane) forgets to write down a dosage that he has given a critically ill patient. It comes close to killing somebody and, as the arrogant, privileged white male from public school, he gets a slap on the wrist and his first choice at his next placement, his only reaction being, “She didn’t die, did she?”. The opposite is true when Dr Lucy Wright is punished for her insecurity and mental instability by the unseen voices of authority, and is signed off work entirely.

There is a mixture of physical movement and short, spoken scenes between the characters. We see a lot of rhythmic hand-washing, there is a dance with x-rays, and there is a nice scene which starts out as a practice role play between doctor and patient, and ends up as quite a tender dance between the two doctors who develop a relationship with each other, Dr Grace Collins (Alex Hinson) and Dr Cavendish (Iain Gibbons). They use some green hospital curtains on wheels as the main props, which work both as hospital curtains, windows, and partitions of the separate lives.

There is some lovely comedy from Iain Gibbons. His character is a shy but lovable geek, and when he goes to Grace’s flat to look after the cat, the scene with the cat-cam is sweet and funny.

My main criticism is that I wanted more! I wanted to know more about the characters and see what happened next on their journey. There is just a brief conversation about a patient asking not to be treated by Dr Sharma (Nicolas Pimpare) due to his race, but apart from knowing that he is a studious student and good doctor there is not much more to his character. I also feel that we are left hanging at the end. Maybe I didn’t see the end coming because I was totally gripped by the drama.

The doctors in Rounds face struggles which are not only human and recognisable, but also terrifyingly serious. At this time in our history, when the ethos of the NHS is at risk and its professionals are stressed and overworked, it is important to remember that they are only human, and they are going the extra mile for our sakes, every day.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

One Was Nude And One Wore Tails by Dario Fo at the Hen and Chickens

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It is rare indeed to see One Was Nude and One Wore Tails performed in London. It is one of Dario Fo’s one act farces, first performed in Italy in 1962. Far from Fo’s Milan, the Theatre of Heaven and Hell, which is currently reviving the play, ‘was created in a living room in Southend on Sea’ and their mission is to bring absurdist theatre to London’s fringe.

As we walk in to take our seats, there is an accordion player playing without much accomplishment on the set strewn with crumpled balls of newspaper. Five cast members enter dressed as roadsweepers in bright high visibility overalls and give us a comic rendition of a song, complete with bicycle horns for percussion. It feels like a vaudeville show from past days; Benny Hill springs to mind. Two of the roadsweepers return to the stage, frustratingly sweeping things around rather than sweeping anything away. One of them (Nicholas Bright) is a bit of a simpleton and the other one (Brian Eastty) gives him a lesson in philosophy and life, which ends up with our first roadsweeper (let’s call him Roadsweeper 1) believing that he is God.

From this deep discussion we end up in the middle of a farce based around Roadsweeper 1’s initial need, to find his bin, and his second need, to find some clothes for the naked man who he finds in his bin.

This main section of the farce is by far the funniest and most successful. Nicholas Bright goes from being a lovable Frank Spencer-esque fool to an endearing character who is not as foolish as he looks. This is an important theme for Fo, which is also reiterated when Roadsweeper 1 swaps clothes with a flower seller who is passing by on a bicycle and who is wearing a dinner suit. It is in fact the man inside the bin who is the ambassador, and he is hiding in there naked having run away from a dalliance with a married woman. People are not always what they seem by their appearance. This play brings out such themes with laughter and satire.

The highlight of the entire piece is the naked ambassador in the bin. Played by Darren Ruston, the Naked Man does some brilliant acting from within that bright yellow bin. There are some great visual gags, some knockabout humour, japes with the bike horn, and general slapstick involving the lid of the bin. Ruston delivers his lines beautifully, whilst being mostly imprisoned within the bin, his bald head (and comedy moustache) the only things visible. The direction by Michael Ward gets this really right. Bright’s performance also works really well with Ruston’s; as Roadsweeper 1 puts on the dinner suit and tails and becomes a make-believe Count he is comically exuberant. The Woman (Elena Clements) is a slight role which helps the action to move along, but it is done well. As she sits on the bench next to our hapless Roadsweeper 1 at the end of the play, a hint of romance in the air between these two simple folk, she reflects it was ‘All because I met a naked ambassador’.

Fo is the Nobel prize-winning playwright who died last year, more famous for his longer form plays The Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! It seems like a good time to see his lesser-known work, particularly if it is going to be of this high calibre.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

One Last Thing (For Now) by Althea Theatre Company at the Old Red Lion Theatre

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There are some great moments in One Last Thing (For Now) by Althea Theatre Company and I could feel the passion of the ensemble, but I would have enjoyed an edited, less messy version far more.

The play is written and directed by Lilac Yosiphon (with the cast) and based on love letters written at times of war, different wars in different eras. The cast members play a variety of roles, some with greater success than others. The stories overlap throughout and bring out themes such as how we speak in war time, what we hide, how the person who is not at war but at home cannot fully comprehend the situation for the other person. There are unusual situations, even a thread about a woman who wishes to send her touch to her husband, and decides that she needs to cut off her hand and traverse the world to give her touch to him herself.

The story which centres on a military school in Israel is very moving, and the teacher who did not go to war is played convincingly by Josephine Arden. I felt that this could have been expanded into a fuller story on its own as it is very poignant and brought tears to my eyes.

I enjoyed Arden in her other roles too, including the modern story of skyping her partner who is away in Afghanistan (another tear-jerker). My other favourite was Elizabeth Stretton (she does a great dog!) and she stole the scenes she was in.

The ensemble work is good, for instance when the group speaks out the punctuation and kisses in a series of texts, and their formation together is really nice at times, but at others the space feels too cramped and it would have been nice if some of them had left the stage at times too.

I also liked the performances by Cole Michaels, who reminded me of a young Christopher Eccleston. His Russian sounded so perfect I felt he must be Russian himself (he’s from Sheffield) and again the story about him not being able to tell a woman that her husband has died, and pretending to be him himself, is another touching one. The cast is truly European and they use untranslated French, Spanish and Russian. Understanding the first two languages, I felt that some of it did need to be translated, as it gave an added dimension that many people would miss.

There is almost too much content to squeeze into one play here. I do admire Yosiphon for the project and there are some important and moving points made here. However I believe that focusing on fewer stories, with fewer characters, and condensing into one act, would improve the flow and the experience for the audience.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

Swifties by Tom Stenton at Theatre N16

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I tend to stick to the philosophy that if you can’t say nice about something, you shouldn’t say anything at all. But that would make for a very short review.

Swifties is supposed to be about the relationship between celebrities and their fans, and centres on two young women who appear to love the singer Taylor Swift. An overlong first section of the play sees them re-enacting a role play, with one of them playing Taylor Swift, or ‘Tay’, and the other one of them playing her submissive fan Nina. Confusingly, the girl playing Taylor Swift is actually called Nina, and her ‘friend’ is Yasmin although their relationship is far from warm. The two girls’ obsession with Taylor Swift veers between the adoring and the murderous, the love and the hatred.

Then the role play stops, the lights change, and they turn into their real selves. In their real life Nina (Tanya Cubric) and Yasmin (Isabella Niloufar) have escaped their depressing life back home in Luton through winning a competition, and are in a hotel room about to meet their idol, Swift herself. The plot line of how Nina manages to sabotage this meeting is wrapped up in a fabricated rape allegation involving music producer Calvin Harris (Swift’s ex-boyfriend). Once Swift’s team has found out that Nina is behind the lie, the meeting between them is cancelled, which causes the situation to degenerate.

Swifties is loosely based on the Jean Genet play The Maids, wherein two maids act out sado-masochistic role plays around murdering their mistress. Using The Maids as inspiration is an interesting element, but the link is tenuous and needn’t be there. For me, the narrative does not make sense, the characters are highly annoying in the way they seem to keep switching personality, and the dialogue makes me cringe, including their irritating, babyish, bad American accents (even if they are supposed to be like that). I can’t even write the name Nina without shuddering, it is so overused, and so whiny.

The two actors give it all they have but the play by Tom Stenton does not give them consistent material to work with. It is a pity as a few interesting ideas are touched on, but they are not developed coherently: celebrities like Swift might appear to be philanthropic to their fans, yet it only serves to increase the star’s social media following and their popularity, and further widens the chasm between the star and the fan. As an audience I think we felt there was a chasm between us and Swifties.

The best bit is the end, and I don’t mean that facetiously. Isabella Niloufar takes the hand of an audience member in the front row and poignantly sings a Swift song called The Outside, looking right at her. If only we’d had more moments like this.

WIGS 1/5

By Hatty Uwanogho