Thursday, 19 April 2018

Kendra and Betty go boating… The Gulf, Tristan Bates Theatre

“I’m going to build a big wall between us right now baby and make you pay for it!”

There are long sections of this play that just ring so true. In the cinema of Michelangelo Antonioni there are frequently couples in the midst of an almost unsayable bewilderment as, say, Alain Delon tries to connect with Monica Vitti or Marcello Mastroianni tries to bridge the deep spaces between himself and Jeanne Moreau through sexual contact, words failing him.

Anyone in a long-term relationship has had moments like this and it doesn’t matter if it’s Marcello and Jeanne or Betty and Kendra: sometimes we are not aligned, sometimes we “hate” the one we love and sometimes we just don’t meet in the middle. So it is in this European premier of Audrey Cefaly's unflinchingly honest and compelling play.

Betty (Anna Acton) has lots of things to say, she has a lot of questions but her taciturn partner Kendra (Louisa Lytton) is not easily moved: “I’m not the answer, baby. I’m not. I’m just me.” Betty has dependency issues and Kendra is tough on the outside and pretty tough on the inside too, lounging back on their fishing boat drinking Bud Light and batting back most of the conversational gambits thrown her way.

Anna Acton and Louise Lytton (photographs Rachael Cummings)
Their boat is moored in Alabama somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, a favourite spot for Kendra as the fish get more traction in the shallows and the hunt is commensurately more fun. Kendra’s the one with the rod but Betty is also fishing… for compliments, for a reaction and for reassurance: she’s having about as much luck as Kendra with only a tiddler to show for her efforts.

The pace is slow but it’s a sunny day and there’s six years of shadow boxing to allow for as our two lovers also show they’re fighters. Betty has to fill the spaces with seemingly inane talk about Delores Pedaway’s fifteen cats and how a woman on welfare can possibly afford to feed so many felines. Delores and her cats are a recurring theme as is Betty’s attempt to get Kendra to think about a different career than her current occupation as a sewage worker. Betty has a “self-help” book she refers to as a career-path workbook… it’s helped her decide to take up social work and she’s turning its life-changing light onto her girl.

It’s an attempt to engage which Kendra feels is a part of Betty’s condescension… they both under-rate the other’s feelings for them and whilst this makes Betty reach out, physically and emotionally, it sets Kendra on defence mode. But, as they pick away at each other’s weaknesses, it’s only a matter of time before the barriers are down and the two engage in more heated discussion of well-worn themes. Sometimes an argument is the only way and I say that as the guilty one in many a dust-up caused by practiced inattentiveness.

Then, as the day wears on, there’s a real crisis as the boat’s motor is tangled in weeds and the prop pin is snapped; the two women work together to fix the problem, Kendra calming the panicky Betty and the two warming up to act as a couple: we see why they are.

Louise Lytton and Anna Acton (photographs Rachael Cummings)
But it’s not the end of it… there are issues still to unfold and we’re as unsure of the relationship as the women themselves. Whatever the future holds for these two, you’re rooting for them. This is in no small part due to excellent performances from the two leads who are both so subsumed in their characters. Their timing is perfect and that’s the hardest part to get for a convincing relationship – Betty and Kendra think they’ve heard it all before but they either have and not listened or they’ve been deaf to the gradual evolution of the gulf between them.  The accents are spot on and the emotional turns are deftly made and it was only during the rapturous applause at the end that we saw the Lytton smile on full beam. Job well done both!!

Matthew Gould directs well, intuitive relationship spats take much hard work and the setting is irresistibly intense: we’re stranded on that little wooden boat with them… You have to hope for the best and that’s the best you can hope for.

The Gulf plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre until Saturday 5th May and I reckon you should buy a ticket to share in an experience as universal as it is personal. Tickets availablefrom the box office and I would expect this one to be a hot one.

Ithankyou Theatre rating: **** Makes you go home and really want to talk.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Circular briefings… Devil with the Blue Dress, Bunker Theatre

New York City, Times Square the spring of 1992… walking with my girlfriend (now wife) we came across a rally for presidential hopeful Bill Clinton accompanied by his wife, Hillary. They looked so impressive in the cold April sunshine surrounded by cameras, a phalanx of local Democrats and a growing body of the curious, some not so impressed with this Arkansas upstart this “slick Willy”. Suddenly Bill smiles and points, apparently recognising someone in the crowd, “Hi Bob!” he shouts, pointing directly at the attractive redhead standing next to me – called Catherine by the way. It was a bit of showmanship, a flash for the camera’s in NYC and, biased as I am, I always felt his eye just landed on the prettiest person in our section of the crowd.

That’s my Clinton Story and for a while two years ago I really felt we’d double up on having seen a US president in the flesh – vote Clinton and get two for the price of one, as their old campaigning had it - but it wasn’t to be despite her winning the popular vote by over three million.

In Kevin Armento’s smartly constructed new play, Monica – or Hillary’s construction of Monica – suggests that she gave birth to her political career, forcing the Clintons to play a much tighter game with the more controlled and intelligent, Hillary driving the bus much more. But the seeds for eventual defeat were also laid at this time: “No one bothered to measure how the stain of it might stay with me; how it might make people feel like I’m corrupt, even if they can’t quite put their finger on why…”

Emma Handy, Kristy Philipps, Daniella Isaacs, Flora Montgomery and Dawn Hope (Photo Helen Murray)
Hillary stood by her man and, in the absence of the full details – in this version at least – went out on a limb to defend him. The defence and offence were full on and whilst there’s a reason this particular political scandal is name dafter the woman not the politician, it also somehow fell on the presumed cold shoulders of the woman who became Crooked Hillary.

Armento focuses on the five women at the centre of the scandal and, whilst the play is ostensibly Hillary’s, Monica is given full voice too along with the Clinton’s daughter, only a few years younger than the then 22-year old intern with stars in her eyes.

At various points the other women play Bill’s part – Kristy Philipps (playing Chelsea) catching his drawl with uncanny precision: he like his good buddy Tony, were men of charisma and startling self-belief but… no one’s perfect.

Flora Montgomery makes for a striking Hillary, intelligent and regretful, hoping for the chance to, eventually, just be herself and keen to put the truth across through “her play”. Daniella Isaacs is also good as Monica taking her from greenhorn fan girl to a woman left devastated by the political process – betrayed by lovers and friends alike, especially her confident Linda Tripp.

Emma Handy plays Republican Tripp and even gets a small cheer for her proudly stated conservatism and its practical creed of trusting no-one and never throwing any potentially useful evidence away. She quotes Ayn Rand saying the greatest sensation of existence: not to trust but to know… and reckons that the woman who gets ahead here will be the one who trusts the least.

Daniella Isaacs and Flora Montgomery  (Photo Helen Murray)
But both Hillary and Monica trust Bill and both are let down by him.

So too the President’s Betty (Dawn Hope) whose vast experience has seen four Democrats in the Oval Office and taught her that loyalty is the most important asset, and, in this case, loyalty is very much like trust. Hillary talks of the difference between naiveté and trust: “naiveté is an inability to see everything in front of you, trust is choosing not to…” Then we have Chelsea who knows what her father has done but who cannot help but love him: perhaps that’s trust and knowledge combined.

The Clinton scandal impacts them all and the key piece of evidence, that stained blue dress, is literally hanging over them all, alongside Bill’s famously disingenuous statement that he “did not have sexual relationships” with “that woman”. It sounded too carefully worded, far too awkward, to mean what it said… Fake; it wasn’t invented by The Donald, even though he’s a specialist provider, and the nature of belief over evidence is central to our current disintegration.

It’s an absorbing, play and held us rapt as the women/the women as Bill, talked of a scandal that has been surpassed by almost everything in politics: decadence rules the day and, more than ever, we prefer to select the words that suit our preferences. We all trust far too much and the Republican’s belief that only the Right has access to the “truth” is yet another delusion.

Flora Montgomery and Kristy Phillips  (Photo Helen Murray)
There’s a dislocated almost dreamy tone throughout reinforced by lone saxophone player Tashomi Balfour, playing soulful wisps of Charlie Parker, Coltrane and more in sardonic tribute to Bill’s favourite instrument. But Balfour’s cool is something you could listen to all night.

Joshua McTaggart directs and there is constant motion as performers change character and position and the stage design (from Basia Bińkowska) and lighting (props to Jess Bernberg!) is superb throughout. It’s an atmospheric and very good-looking play that will haunt me for days.

This is the Bunker’s first production of an American play and it made its World premier at a time when another philandering President – one with far less political ability and no moral compass – takes the World closer to disaster. Trump makes Clinton look so classy; the latter may have liked a wander, but he had beliefs and wanted to fulfil a public duty as indeed did Hillary.

But scandal rules are still different for women and this play is a fascinating exploration of just why.

Devil plays at the Bunker until 28th April – ticketsavailable at the box office and they will be hot!

Ithankyou Rating: **** Sparkling script, top-notch performing and much food for thought.

Emma Handy, Daniella Isaacs, Flora Montgomery, Kristy Philipps and Dawn Hope

Friday, 13 April 2018

Cream Punk… Cream Tea and Incest, Hope Theatre

“Remember what it says in the bible: aim for the stomach and he’ll bleed heavily but won’t die straight away.”

That time when someone slipped PG Wodehouse a little something in his tea.

A battle for the nation’s very soul between Lord Lord Wiggins and his, marginally, more-evil brother Lord Biggins Wiggins against that dynamic duo Eddie “The Mangler” Spangler and his loyal butler Jeffrey. It’s a fight involving Keynesian multipliers, the full Marx, free-market opium production and being beastly with the best intentions as well as the best Edwardian inventions. But most of all… incest and tea with cream: you just cannot say fairer than that. It’s national. Also, WAR!

Setting his arms against a mill of troubles is Benjamin Alborough who this play did both write and perform despite no doubt gracious advice from the kind of people who wouldn’t do this sort of thing. They were all wrong and he was all right on the knight.

I can’t keep this up, but this play leaves you giddy, all shook up from close-proximity silly and the ever-present danger of song, direct eye and even actual contact; in a play in which death by cuddling is all too frequent, being in the front row takes its toll. There’s also magnificent double, triple, quadruple, round-the-back and forth again, word play in which the simplest phrase can mean some-think else: imagine Lee Mack had he gone to Christ Church or Balliol. Relentless. Funny. Charming.

And what’s more; it’s all done with cardboard. Yes, beware even your Amazon packaging for cardboard is flexible and believable… cardboard can kill, especially in the careless hands of Spangler. The backdrop is cardboard, his waistcoat is cardboard, breakfast, knickers and a fully functioning gun are all cardboard. Quite rightly they say, this is the World’s first 2.5-dimensional show.

But the characters leap out from the beige, Lord Lord Wiggins (Aidan Cheng) dressed in a splendid silken suit – all the rage for tailored-trousered philanthropists – has an accent so far beyond plummy that you’d have to call it jam. It’s a wonderful turn from Cheng, certainly one of the four hardest working men in showbiz (on Upper Street at the very least).

Spangker has a plan!
Wiggins has inherited his father’s wealth and is looking to marry Rhodesia itself in the form of Emily Rhodes. But he is having a crisis of capitalism and isn’t sure whether to seek trickle-down solace in a free market or to appropriate the means of production and, damn it all, he isn’t sure Emily is the one, yes, he’s not convinced that Rhodes-is-her.

Important government types send the indefatigable Eddie and his valiant valet (excellent Eoin McAndrew) to the rescue. All they have to do is ensure that Wiggins doesn’t falter – the fate of Empire rests on it and much more besides as Spangler’s opium production will be compromised by any Rhodes-exit and subsequent tariff impositions. AND, War!!

But it’s not that simple, how could it be… Enter a hail of rhetorical ferocity in the form of unlucky Wiggins sibling, Lord Biggins (a spectacular Edward Spence), who wants nothing less than the restitution of his rightful inheritance after Dad favoured his more gentile brother. He means murder and we quite believe it.

Now the card really hits the board as all these unstoppable objects meet in an irresistibly hilarious conflagration.

Benjamin Philipp directs his fantastic four exceptionally with a script packed full of enough words for a play twice as long. The actors’ verbal dexterity is matched by their ability to dance and, yes, sing, in the Hope’s intimate space. What I love about this place is the closeness between audience and performers, there’s nothing for it but engagement and whilst others talk of “immersive” the Hope has always been involving from the very first power chords in its basement to the latest excuse me in eth queue for the loo. A great pub and an exceptional theatrical venue.

 Eoin McAndrew, , Edward Spence, Aidan Cheng and Benjamin Alborough
By the end we were all singing along to the play’s theme tune, clicking our fingers in time as the players summed up – I even had a go at matching Eoin McAndrew’s higher register but he knows what he’s doing!

Cream Tea and Incest plays until 28th April and tickets are available from the box office… then it returns at the Edinburgh Festival, follow the play on Facebook and Twitter for more details.

Ithankyou Theatre verdict: **** Call me a cardboard lover!*

All Production photography by Olivia Rose Deane.

*Things are – possibly – taken a step further in The Cardboard Lover, a 1928 silent film featuring the brilliant comedienne Marion Davies and scandi-smoulderer Nils Asner.

Further watching for those who the board of card do love...

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Mothers and daughters… Reared, Theatre503, Latchmere Theatre, Battersea

What do the birds do when it’s raining, do you think? Do they have somewhere to go?

John Fitzpatrick’s new play is packed with powerfully rendered characters and asks difficult questions about family and motherhood. At one point elderly Nora’s daughter-in-law asks why she should protect her and yet we know she has no other choice having been both protected herself and overwhelmed by the woman whose intelligence and strength are ebbing away eroded by dementia and simple old age.

It’s a terrifying thing getting old, a tragedy as my own grandmother once called it, that turns the carers into the cared for in ways that are never convenient, nor welcomed. Nora (superbly played by Paddy Glynn) is a former business woman who is now reliant on her son Stuart (Daniel Crossley) and his wife Eileen (Shelley Atkinson) to help her daily routine. She enters their kitchen at the start of the play with toilet paper stuck to her heel after a incident in the bathroom: Eileen picks up the sticky remnant and fibs after Nora doesn’t hear her reference to poo. It’s a mark of how far she has fallen; she’s either unaware or in denial and it’s that tipping point so many will know.

Eileen is the main carer with Stuart busy being busy and requiring micro-management to do anything other than maintain a cheerful confidence in crossing that bridge when and if it comes… She wants his mother to live in a granny flat in their garden but Stuart has taken a long time doing nothing on it. He’s in denial and takes refuge in his work.

Danielle Phillips, Daniel Crossley, Rohan Nedd and Shelley Atkinson (All photographs courtesy of The Other Richard)

There’s an extra urgency to this plan as their 15-year old daughter Caitlin (Danielle Phillips) is pregnant by unknown hand… and for various reasons left it too late to raise the alarm. Her baby needs a room and Eileen can’t deal with both first and second childhood all at the same time.

The dialogue is well wrought, and the actors deliver with quality and precision. You can totally believe that Eileen and Stuart are married – they know each other’s weaknesses as well as their own and there’s humour to be had here as well as the routine niggling of the passing decades.

Eileen is fed up of being the one mailing things happen and berates both husband and daughter for pulling away from Nora whilst at the same time ignoring the signs that she needs help. There’s particular poignancy in Nora’s lucid moments, she is probably the brightest of them all and nails so many home truths in her smiling Wicklow accent, laughing at the ridiculous of it all.

“It’s only the Irish who walk into the sea. You wouldn’t see an English woman walking into the sea…”

Paddy Glynn and Danielle Phillips (Photo The Other Richard)

Nora tells Caitlin of her aunt who lived long enough to tell her of the potato famine and the cruel tragedies of a world turned to ash and a million Irish deaths all but engineered, in her mind, by the British. It’s a reminder of how cruel things can become and how we need family, community and kindness.

Caitlin begins to draw closer to her nanna as her own story is revealed. A one night stand with her pal Colin (Rohan Nedd) has led to her predicament but she’s keeping him quiet. Colin wants to help but he can’t give any more than he already has for, whilst he was Caitlin’s way of ticking off the box of experience she was his confirmation of his true sexuality. Caitlin loves Colin though and he tries to be a steadfast friend… bringing her ancient library books on maternity.

They’re both so young and even though their mistake could cost Caitlin her ambition to be an actress, she is growing up quickly as a result, recognising her importance in helping both her mother and grandmother.

It’s a good set up and the narrative doesn’t take the easy way as we delve deeper into Eileen’s past – now she appears to be the strongest character and yet it wasn’t always so and once Nora held everything together after post-natal depression almost finished her and her daughter off.

The story is well revealed and maintains a light tone between the sledgehammer blows… these are maintained right until the final punchline as things go a lot like life.

Daniel Crossley and Shelley Atkinson (photo The Other Richard)
Sarah Davey-Hull directs her strong cast well and brought out the best from the two younglings. I almost stood and clapped after Danielle Phillips’ Caitlin performed Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy in which she calls for the strength of a man to do what must be done. In reality men draw their strength from women like Lady Mac and, in kinder ways, from Nora, Eileen and Caitlin.

Paddy Glynn is great a twinkle in her eye and pure fear as her world retreats into a dislocated fog. Daniel Crossley I’d seen before in Lizzie Sidall at the Arcola (and also The Bill!) whilst Shelley Atkinson showed all her stage experience as the pitch-perfect woman squeezed between obligation and love: she owes Nora more than she wants to admit.

It’s disconcerting when the actors look out into the audience at the Latchmere, they can see us just as well as we can see them and for parts of this play I was cast in the role of a potential granny flat in the garden: typecasting... but who am I to argue with such a forceful cast.

Reared is a Bold & Saucy Theatre Company presentation and plays at the Latchmere until 28th April, you’d be daft not to see it and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to stumble out into the rain-sodden streets of Battersea as I did and give your Mum a call.

IThankYou Theatre rating: **** First class home truths.
Paddy Glynn

Friday, 6 April 2018

Killing us softly… Mirrors by Siobhan McMillan, Leicester Square Theatre

At one point, Siobhan McMillan tells her director, Gabi Maddocks, to budge up so she can sit on her chair and take a break, we’re not sure if it’s Siobhan or Shivvers, Penelope, Madison, Shy Girl or any one of the characters her physical, exhausting and emotionally pounding performance has evoked. Mirrors is a many-layered tale that blows the fourth wall and hits the audience right where it hurts – audacious, deadly accurate and disabling; she’s very funny.
This is eyeball-to-eyeball theatre and Siobhan carries it off with humility, honesty and tremendous charm; the confessional of a woman on the verge who isn’t afraid to leap over the barricades with seemingly innocent non-sequiturs that cunningly reveal themselves as all part of a multi-layered and tightly wrought script – one lean, meaning machine.

It’s also a challenge to absolutely switch off the male gaze and engage. This is not a play written for either sex – we’re all in it together – and whilst my wife laughed with recognition at truths acknowledged in close-quarters, I also got the point being a little bit Jim, Shaun the brutal “life-coach” and even Mickey. Mirrors is ultimately about kindness and that’s no fairy tale fantasy.

The story begins with Shy Girl, a video blogger telling all to her eight new subscribers and revealing a soft centre used and abused by Mikey, her boyfriend of six and a half weeks who would have character failings if only he had a character. Mikey is a dead end of a sexual partner and a dead loss as a boy-friend, standing his girl up in front of her audience.

Siobhan McMillan, all photo by Thomas Ashton
There follows a descent into the furthest regions of Shy Girl’s imagination and self esteem led by Shivvers, ultra-confident, competitive and out to kill any rivals to her beauty and power. This “witchy primary character” has grown since the play’s first iteration and is now even more primary: the aggression of desperation we all feel once we start – as both Shiobhan and LCD Soundsystem say – “losing our edge…”

As with other witches in unrelated fairy tales, Shivvers has a mirror and a man inside it (say hello to Jim) to provide positive reinforcement and advance early warning of breaking new beauty. Shivvers time comes and she is shocked to the core. She won’t take this lying down and goes off in search of the new sexual superpower in order to drain her essence and just bloomin’ well kill her to death.

She spies an impossibly pretty lass singing along with birds, bees and all the cute animals – she’s as perfect as Amy Adams in Enchanted and enough to make our bad witch vomit. Shivvers lies down in the forest with her own creatures – worms, frogs, cockroaches… waiting to strike at Bitch Face. But all is not as it seems after darkness falls and Shivvers sees her foe eating four “human males”, toes first and all the way through guts and garters to their hearts… it’s a measure of Siobhan’s expression that she is able to describe this process with a mixture of revulsion and admiration – and much more besides… it’s certainly not something I’ll be forgetting in a hurry and I’m avoiding the woods from now on.

This is the beauty of Mirrors, the meaning is smuggled in under the stories and even as you’re trying to work out what just happened we’re already in another world, the huge house of perfect Penelope who throws her impossible beauty away with an overdose of neurosis and then a self-help group, Chips and Dips Anonymous, where over compensatory crisp consumption is a problem doubled through sharing.

Siobhan McMillan, photo Thomas Ashton
It’s a story of Siobhan through Shy Girl as Shivvers… and the fairy tale filter allows the unveiling of universal truths of societal pressures: what are we to do when we are no longer “perfect”? You can’t kill all the competition and maybe the main thing is acceptance? As “Shaun” says if you have low self-esteem it could be because of a deep-rooted psychological trauma in your childhood so… get used to it!!

Mirrors is a special play and Siobhan McMillan is clearly a special performer – her movement is exceptional as is her physical expression – creating an old hag through mime (you can take the girl out of RADA but…) like Lindsay Kemp in a black dress or Kate Bush on the moor. She uses every inch of the Theatre Lounge’s tight spaces to express herself and to pull us in.

That’s brave and, as it happens, that’s entertainment. I would love to watch this play all over again and urge you not to miss it.

Mirrors runs until 14th April so please get a move on!!

Ithankyou Theatre rating: ***** They talk of immersive… but this is a very personal theatrical conversation! We loved it!

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Play for today… Julius Caesar, The Bridge Theatre

How many ages hence, shall this our lofty scene be acted over, in states unborn and accents yet unknown?

I’ve not seen Julius Caesar since the Bolton Octagon many years past. The performance area in the Bridge has eight sides but that is where any similarity ends in what is one of the most original and energetic Shakespearean productions I’ve seen. Down in the Pit, following the action in close quarters, seeing every expression every spat-out line and being herded around through assassination then civil war, this was the most physically engaging theatre.

We arrived to find David Morrisey belting out Eye of the Tiger (or perhaps Tiber?) with the house band/actors, who then kicked into Seven Nation Army before a punk thrash song of political defiance.

Off to a flyer – is this a gig or a Shakespeare and are we an audience or performers? Any disorientation was short-lived as Lady Stark and Paddington Bear began plotting impressively. Michelle Fairley (as Caius Cassius) and Ben Wishaw (Marcus Brutus) are far more than those famous roles and both have the beautiful knack of being able to wrap sixteenth century lines in twenty first century meaning: you hang on every word as they both make the task of translating the iambic complexities look effortless.

Michelle Fairley and Ben Wishaw 
But they are not alone in a world-class cast that combines youth and experience in exhilarating fashion. Nicholas Hytner, the Bridge’s co-founder after 12 years at the National directs with audacity aided by the best sound, lighting and stage designers in Bermondsey and beyond to create a riotous show that takes its subject matter in its stride. The pitch is just right and there is wit enough to overcome any vestige of concern at pop-art Bard… they mean it man and there’s genuine anarchy in the SPQR.

David Morrisey is the scousest Mark Antony in stage history, possibly channelling Pete Wylie in this story of the blues (and reds). The keynote speech at Caesar’s funeral is quite brilliantly wrought as Morrisey takes the opening lines almost as an apology, smuggling the full force of the message in as he repeats that “Brutus is an honourable man…” It’s one of the great political set pieces in the canon and he makes it sound freshly considered, as he lays his heart open to his fellow citizens before playing from the strength he knows he has: Caesar’s crowd-pleading will.

Even in death, Caesar returns to haunt the conspirators and in Brutus’s case, quite literally as the consequences of the assassination throw an out-of-kilter republic into the arms of another Caesar, Octavius (Kit Young) and the very authoritarian rule by a single individual they were trying to avoid: Octavius, later Augustus, was to rule for 40 years, the longest-reigning emperor.

Photographers from Manuel Harlan
Shakespeare seems fully aware of this and as Peter Holland points out in his programme essay, hardly makes a convincing case that assassination works although the staging of the play in New York shortly after President Trump’s inauguration was controversial enough… oh my, so literal these alt fact people…

As a play about democracy it is still undeniably rich in meaning and this is reinforced as we the people formed our opinions in close proximity to the performers. In the aptly-named Pit, the Bridge’s actors can see the whites of their audiences’ eyes and it must be a visceral challenge unlike almost any other theatre this side of the Globe or intimate venues outside of the reliably constructed fourth walls of the West End.

The act of watching and being watched impacts on our role as an audience too and we’re engaged out of politeness and fascination – a very human response to the performers in close proximity as well as a reaction to the force of their story-telling.

David Calder’s deep tones were perfect for Caesar and they reminded me of the rich textures of Paul Schofield’s delivery. Michel Fairley was the perfect female Cassius, earnest and sincere in her aims whilst risking all to save the Rome she loves. Brutus is the man she needs to convince and even though she uses fake messaging – letters purporting to be from sympathetic citizens, think Cambridge Analytica in Latin and on parchment – in this reading her aims are well intentioned… Brutus is sympathetic, a man of conscience with honour; the noblest Roman of all in Marc Anthony’s final summation.

Also worthy of note is the sublime Adjoa Andoh as Casca and Hannah Stokely whose Metellus had to misfortune to die right in front of me. Abraham Popoola also cuts an impressive figure as Trebonius and also as the house band’s lead singer. In truth the large cast are all superb and I do them a disservice by not mentioning them by name.

This Julius Caesar is a thrilling and thought-provoking ride that will stay with you for days. I would urge you to go and see it and to watch it form the Pit; the Bridge is a well-structured and intimate venue even from the seats but eyeball-to-eyeball, in the midst of the action you will really feel this play more than any other in London!

And, you will ask yourself: how should we be ruled?

Julius Caesar plays at the Bridge until 15th April so you haven't much time: so do it now!

Ithankyou Theatre Rating ***** Visceral and – yes – devastatingly immersive!

World-class cast

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Thou nature art my goddess… Foul Pages, The Hope Theatre

It’s Oscars week and Call Me by Your Name was deservedly nominated among the best pictures and best performances. It’s a film about falling in love and it just so happens that it’s men doing the falling without much fuss or flim-flam, certainly in the eyes of the father of one of the young men, who gives his son the best kind of support when his heart is broken. Love normalised.

I was reminded of the simple honestly of this film watching Foul Pages, a very personal play from Robin Hooper, spurred on by memories of school plays, crushes and the truths he could only speak when dressed as a “girl” in a Shakespeare play. As a schoolboy actor he said he never tried to hide what he was or could be… on stage he was liberated.

Foul pages are written in our lives as scripts for dishonesty and expedience. Just as William Shakespeare is made to re-write certain passages by his sponsor the Countess of Pemroke and forced into casting the King’s favourite as Rosalind and not the better actor he wrote the part for, so too do we all compromise parts of our integrity away and on a regular basis. To fit in at work or with social groups we modify our behaviour but when this extends to the vast area of our self, devoted to sexuality and love then it is sad and monstrous.

James King, Thomas Bird and Lewis Chandler
Even in Shakespeare’s happy-go-lucky band of travelling players the men joke about same-sex liaisons as being like in the navy – needs must - whilst others do what they do for favour and patronage. But in the midst of this play acting there is genuine affection and for one couple, a tragedy waiting to happen.

But, before all that, there’s a talking dog called Chop and he is the very best talking dog I have ever seen on stage. Played by James King with best-of-reed swagger and a ruff-ruff! round his neck, Chop is our Greek chorus and one of the most sympathetic characters, commenting straight to audience on the human doings and eventually proving to be a hero. Man’s best friend. As with Lear’s fool, Chop keeps on telling us truths; his’ master’s voice.

Nominally the story is about Mary, Countess of Pembroke (Clare Boomer) and her attempts to stage a play to appeal to King James’ better conscience so that he will free Sir Walter Raleigh. Mary’s married but Raleigh’s her man even before her husband passed on. She will do anything for him and who can blame her when even the King’s bodyguard, Mears (Jack Harding) has taken a bite out of the man who bought us tobacco and potatoes.

Now you see, Bard, this is how you do it...
Mary’s maid, Peg (Olivia Onyehara) is steadfastly in the midst of this intrigue and carries on her work even as the players strut and the mistress plots. She is to be disappointed in her approach to the playwright’s brother Ed (Greg Baxter) who it seems has his heart set on another… Will himself (Ian Hallard) tries hard to protect the chastity of his work but there’s so many wanting to screw it up for the sake of politics, themselves and other issues.

His poetry is also a catalyst for human response and not just as a potion aimed at encouraging the King’s good will. For the talented Alex (Lewis Chandler) Rosalind is the role he was born to play and for Rob (Thomas Bird) it’s the thing with which he’ll catch the eye of the king as he dreams of land in Lincolnshire and the comfortable life of a consort.

King James (Tom Vanson) proves both generous and considerate but the presence of all-powerful royalty does tend to bring out the anxieties in his subjects and jealousy inspires violence as our players become increasingly desperate in their attempts to follow their hearts’ desire.

Peg sees to her mistress as Chop thinks on...
Foul Pages is another intensely theatrical triumph for the Hope and as you would expect, Matthew Parker directs his crowded stage with panache and pace. The energy is high and maintained by snatches of thumping electronica (Chop-House Music?) the action never lets up as the characters move across and around each other from start to finish.

It’s bitter sweet but a glorious plea for honesty and for your truth. It finished with a pumped-up players’ dance that, for a second, I thought we should all join in.

Ithankyou Rating: **** or, for Chop, Woof Woof Woof Woof!!!!

Foul Pages runs until 17th March and tickets are availablefrom their box office and online.

Photographs by LHPhotoshots