LA RONDE ♥♥♥♥

THE BUNKER.

Awash with sexual chemistry, this new adaptation of La Ronde presents almost limitless possibilities.

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Alex Vlahos, Amanda Wilkin, Lauren Samuels and Leemore Marrett Jr. Pic: Ray Burmiston

Fizzing with energy and with over 3,000 casting possibilites, Max Gill’s new adaptation of La Ronde plays havoc with fate, giving all four performers the prospect of playing each and any role, depending on how the Wheel of Fortune turns.

Originally written by Schnitzler back in 1897 for his friends, and banned for being pornographic when finally performed in 1920, this play takes a fearless leap into the sexual desires, fears and longings of a succession of interlocking couples, and Gill has updated it superbly. His gender non-specific play allows any actor to play any scene, regardless of gender, sexuality or heritage, and the super-alertness and readiness required of actors facing this challenge results in an electrically charged and high-voltage performance from all four.

The only downside to this is, of course, that the Wheel of Fortune (designed here on a grand scale by Frankie Bradshaw) is notoriously fickle, and some performers may get better luck on the night. On this occasion the wonderful Leemore Marrett Jr remains on the sidelines, like a sub on the team bench, until the very last scene, when his drawling character gives a tantalizing glimpse into what else we may have missed.

But whichever way the casting falls, all four actors are on it.

Lauren Samuels’ eastern European cleaner is a brilliantly funny and engaging character, not least when she turns dominatrix. Alexander Vlahos gives a delicate and touching account of a man whose appointment with the cancer specialist takes an unusual turn, while Amanda Wilkin is a powerhouse of energy from first to last.

If the play itself doesn’t soak you with enough sex, there’s also a recorded soundtrack giving verbatim testimonies of the sexual history of Londoners, collected over months by director Gill, who clearly believes in thorough research.

All credit too, to Nathan Klein, for the immersive sound design and composition, and Jack Weir’s atmospheric lighting design, which reinforces the sense that life is all about gambling, and taking a chance which may, or may not, pay off.

On this occasion, it most certainly does.

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GREENWICH THEATRE.

An electric performance brings life to this new adaptation of Mary Shelley’s horror story.

 

Frankenstein Blackeyed 1, credit of Alex Harvey-Brown..jpg

Pic: Alex Harvey-Brown

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a hit right from the start. First told as a ghost story to friends (who happened to include the poets Shelley and Lord Byron) on a holiday in Geneva in 1816 , it was published two years later and was quickly reinterpreted as a play. It’s been filmed and staged countless times since, and the hideous Creature, rejected by his master and tormented by loneliness, is one of the most chilling – and tragic – creations in fiction.

There are two obvious essentials for a successful production – Victor Frankenstein himself, and his Creature. In Blackeyed Theatre’s adaptation, Ben Warwick is a commanding presence as Frankenstein, playing the deity-defying scientist with a gripping, ever-increasing intensity which borders on madness as his life unravels.

He’s ably supported by Lara Cowin as the adoring Elizabeth, whose artless, loving nature sustains her throughout Frankenstein’s long, neglectful absences, and by Max Gallagher as his staunchly loyal friend Henry Clerval.

The set – a tangled mass of timbers and sails – is an ingenious creation by designer Victoria Spearing, and combines the gruesome laboratory with the deck of the frozen ship whose captain rescues Frankenstein from the icy wastes of the North Pole.

The Creature itself is a large, ghostly puppet made by Yvonne Stone, manoeuvred with great skill by members of the cast and voiced by Louis Labovitch.

But while there’s clearly been a huge emotional investment in this Creature, whose sheer size is impressive, its body – made mostly of sinewy white rope – simply doesn’t stack up as the loathsome, rotting patchwork of flesh that Frankenstein tells us he sees.

There are some otherworldly effects – in particular when the company multi-track his voice – yet this Creature is curiously neutral as both villain and victim.

But while the chill factor may not be turned up very high, Eliot Giuralarocca directs with flair and imagination, and the production maintains a brisk energy, powered by the electricity of Ben Warwick’s central performance.

Touring until 25 March 2017

Blackeyedtheatre.co.uk

@blackeyedtheatr

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HENRY V ♥♥♥

SOUTHWARK CATHEDRAL.

An ingenious setting gives this touring production its edge.

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‘An angel is like you, Kate’      Pic: Scott Rylander

For Antic Disposition – a company which tours its Shakespearean productions in south west France each year ­– Henry V was always going to be sticky, dealing as it does with the trouncing of the French at Agincourt in 1415. Its portrayal of a blustering, arrogant Dauphin, and a powerful army that’s brought low by a heroic band of brothers who begin the fight outnumbered and exhausted, make it scarcely the most tactful play to present.

Artistic directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero have skilfully wriggled round this problem by setting the action in a First World War field hospital, where wounded French and British allied troops pass the time during convalescence by performing the play, which happens to be the only English book handy. They take their time to set up this premise, and with music composed by Christopher Peake (set to the poems of AE Houseman) ringing up to the magnificent roof of Southwark Cathedral, the opening sequence has a captivating resonance.

The cast are also a mix of French and English actors, which works beautifully in the case of Princess Katherine, played with grace, spirit and good humour by Floriane Andersen.

Rhys Bevan is a stout-hearted Henry, but while he makes the most of his rousing speeches, this an edgy performance from a king who doesn’t seem to have found his full confidence yet. There’s welcome support from Callum Coates who brings authority and gravitas to Exeter, and Andrew Hodges as a passionate Fluellen.

The problem with this vaulted, echoing setting is that some of the less crisp speakers can’t always be heard – or even understood – at times, and there are occasional struggles with the lighter-hearted scenes that allow the momentum to flag.

Yet the company has created a genuinely innovative approach to the play in its setting, its stirring music and in its clear parallels between the plight of common soldiers in the 15th century, and those in the trenches of the 20th.

Cathedral tour until 22 February 2017

Anticdisposition.co.uk

@anticdispo

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PRIDE & PREJUDICE ♥♥♥♥

JERMYN STREET THEATRE.

 

This sparkling adaptation is a hugely engaging romp through Jane Austen’s greatest love story.

 

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Multi-tasking…Nick Underwood and Joannah Tincey.        Pic: Carrie Johnson

While the TV version of Pride and Prejudice (can it really be over 20 years old?) luxuriated in six hour-long episodes to unfold the complex story, this stage play from Two Bit Classics has barely two.

But the thoroughly entertaining, pacy adaptation by actor Joannah Tincey gets round the problem by sticking solely to Jane Austen’s own words, skilfully filleting the narrative to take us on a fast-track dash though one of the most popular and enduring of all novels.

And why stick to casting yourself as either Lizzie, Mrs Bennet, Lydia or Mr Bingley, when you could enjoy playing them all? Tincey takes on half the 21-strong head count, creating a warm, intelligent Elizabeth Bennet and channelling her inner Alison Steadman (a compliment) for Mrs Bennet, with the remaining characters – including Mr Darcy – played by Nick Underwood. The duo create an entirely engaging account with enough faithful detail to satisfy P&P’s fans, while keeping the plot and characterisations crystal clear throughout.

Nick Underwood as unctuous, boastful Mr Collins is a highlight of the production, and his Mr Darcy is suitably suave and arrogant. He also takes on the tittering, militia-mad Kitty whose irritating cough becomes her own distinguishing feature when Underwood is switching roles at speed.

Dora Schweitzer’s set and costumes are a triumph, combining period swagger with the deft simplicity that allows lighting costume changes – most notably the single button that transforms Mrs Bennet to Mr Bingley and back again. Schweitzer has also highlighted each character with a single prop that helps to identify them – a hankie for Mrs Bennet, a pipe for her husband, and so on – though with the performers’ level of skill this is really just extra garnish.

Director Abigail Anderson makes the most of the theatrical intimacy which allows the cast to address the audience directly, creating an instant rapport and highlighting the wit and elegance of Austen’s prose.

This is the third revival of the production, which has played before in 2013 and 2014. It’s a tour de force from Tincey and Underwood as performers, and with Anderson’s pacy direction, this is a Pride and Prejudice to relish whether you’re a die-hard Austen fan or a newbie to the whole Lizzie and Darcy dynamic.

Either way, it’s a theatrical treat.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, adapted by Joannah Tincey

Jermyn Street Theatre,  until Wednesday, 21 December

Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm. Saturday/Sunday matinees 3.30pm
Additional Matinees Thursday 8th & 15th December 3.30pm

 

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HAMLET PECKHAM ♥♥♥

CLF THEATRE, BUSSEY BUILDING, PECKHAM.

This pacy production from Shakespeare Peckham is full of youthful energy and truth.

 

unspecifiedSeeing an advert for an actor to play Hamlet is enough to make any performer sit up and take notice. But this one specified nothing beyond a minimum age of 18. The result is a production where not one but three actors seize the opportunity to take their turn as the sweet prince.

This crisp and intriguing show from Shakespeare Peckham follows the same company’s Othello, and is staged within the chill concrete walls of the Bussey Building, which – be warned – is almost impossible to find despite its size, unless you already know where you’re going.

Sharon Singh takes the first shift, opening the play’s scene setting as a baffled, resentful young man, simmering with energy and fire.

Max Calandrew plays the central portion, with a keen intelligence and a refreshing mix of humour and clarity in his delivery. Director Anthony Green perhaps has him bashing the women around a bit more than strictly necessary – his attacks on Ophelia and his mother both appear rather too overtly choreographed – but this is a gripping performance.

The final prince is Izabella Urbanowicz, whose swashbuckling vigour is tempered by a beautifully judged and emotional closing scene, and an excellent swordfight by fight and movement director Marcello Marascalchi.

There is an occasional awkwardness about flipping sexes – ‘dog will have her day’ and ‘Good night sweet princess’ seem unnecessarily fidgety, but by and large the mixed casting adds new layers to the production with each actor revealing different strengths.

Gil Sutherland is terrific as bossy dad Polonius, with a suave mixture of courtly deference and parental authority, and he brings a gravitas to the production that helps to ground the younger performers.

Daniel Rusteau’s calm, concerned Horatio is also impressive and  finely tuned.

In heavily accented English, Diana Gomez excels as Ophelia, marking the tragic decline of the hopeful young girl into madness and despair with a tender sensitivity.

There’a also a very perky and entertaining turn from Eva Savage as the gravedigger, whose spry humour and sage observations are one of the evening’s highlights.

Peckham Shakespeare’s aim is, according to Antony Green, to inspire us to do our own ‘thing to do’, in the way that poor Hamlet fails to do his, and this approach has much to recommend it – not least that this production demonstrates a clarity and truth that reaches the heart of the play.

Until Feb 27 2016 at The Bussey Building

hamletpeckham.com

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BOTALLACK O’CLOCK ♥♥♥

THE OLD RED LION THEATRE

A great artist stumbles through a drink-soaked night in this intriguing portrayal.

 

Botallack Production Shot copyThe artist Roger Hilton was, by his own admission, a man who mistrusted words. Yet he managed to produce a lot of them, many written in the dead of night to his wife, in the form of shopping lists, irritable exhortations, and occasionally apologies for behaving like a shit.

These musings have formed the basis for Eddie Elks’ play Botallack O’Clock, set in the grim, rubbish strewn room that became Hilton’s living and working space for the last two years of his life in Cornwall. Bedbound, he painted on paper around his bed, and fuelled himself with cigarettes and drink.

Dan Frost is impressive as shambling, sickly Hilton, and has clearly spent time perfecting the artist’s very distinctive voice. The play’s main premise – that Hilton converses with his radio (George Haynes) in a surreal pre-dawn version of Desert Island Discs – is amusing and intriguing, though it does take rather an age for Hilton to wake up and get round to turning the radio on.

Things pick up when he recalls his early days as a student in Paris. Suddenly, bedbound Hilton stands up straight and returns to those optimistic times, when he really appreciated the curves of a beautiful life model.

We could do with a bit more of these sprightlier memoirs, perhaps, but it’s not long before Hilton is crawling back into bed again, and being visited by the DTs in the form of a nightmarish creature that haunts his night-time visions.

Set designer Ken McClymont has stuck to the unvarnished truth – evidenced in photographs – in kitting out the room with an array of rubbish, tat and empties.

It’s a credit to Frost’s performance that the paintings that appear in the closing slide-show of Hilton’s work feel so familiar, having heard from the man himself about how key pieces came to be painted.

Although it has its longeurs, this is a very clever concept and offers some poignant insights into the finale of a great artist’s life.

• The Old Red Lion Theatre,418 St John Street, London EC1V 4NJ. 0844 412 4307

Until 6th February 2016

Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30pm
Saturday matinees 2.30pm
Sunday matinees 3pm

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The Long Road South ♥ ♥ ♥

THE KING’S HEAD THEATRE, ISLINGTON.

The Civil Rights movement forms the backdrop for this tetchy family drama from Paul Minx.

 

(l-r) Imogen Stubbs as Carol Ann Price (1)

Imogen Stubbs. Pic Truan Munro

The love and care devoted to teenager Ivy by a servant – and an unpaid one at that – develops over a summer into the most important relationship in her life. And that serves only to highlight the failings, great and small, of her parents in Paul Minx’s play about characters hovering on the periphery of the US Civil Rights movement in 1965.

Imogen Stubbs is on great form as the tottering, gin-soaked mother who still maintains some vestige of dignity, even kindness, despite her wits having a tendency to wander. Stubbs played a very similar role – drunk and disappointed parent – in Strangers on a Train, but here she seizes all its potential with a stirring and at times richly comic performance.

Cornelius Macarthy creates a powerful presence as Andre, the ‘help’, a flawed hero with some pretty heavyweight secrets to hide.

The irritable, sausage-manufacturer husband is played with authority by Michael Brandon. Lydea Perkins makes a pert and wilful Ivy, who makes up to her father, scorns her mother and practises blackmail on Andre with all the ardent arrogance of youth, regardless of the vintage swimming costume she’s stuck with for the entire show.

There could scarcely be more of a contrast than with the maid, Grace, and Kriss Bohn conveys the burning sense of political idealism that guides her life and her love.

On the face of it, Mum has the sketchiest semblance of authority in her own household, and Grace pays a heavy price for her forthright ways. But while the play builds up a tide of tension that seems heading for disaster, in the event it ends with a rather rosy sunset scene of Grace leading her man off to join the civil rights marches while Imogen Stubbs shrugs off the bottle, lets down her hair and takes charge of affairs at home.

Along the way it explores a whole range of themes from race relations to whether religion does anyone any good. It was inspired by the playwright’s own very fond memories of a childhood servant, whose stories and enthusiasm played their part in firing his own imagination, and under Sarah Berger’s smart direction, it’s a well crafted look at a dysfunctional family.

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