Monthly Archives: April 2014

Debris @ Southwark Playhouse, London – April 2014

Debris is Dennis Kelly’s first play and this revival for its tenth anniversary at Southwark Playhouse is OpenWorks Theatre’s debut production.

Painted grey and dominated by a large pile of rocks, the theatre’s ‘Little’ space, complemented by Signe Beckmann’s excellent, minimalist design, serves perfectly as the backdrop to this deliciously dark and often disturbingly comic piece.

debrisPerformed in one act, the play comprises the alternating streams of consciousness of orphaned teenagers Michael and Michelle who, surrounded by the debris of their young lives, try to make sense of a strange, damaging and dysfunctional childhood and struggle to ascertain who they are and where they are from.

The narrative begins violently as Michael (Harry McEntyre) remembers the day of his 16th birthday when he came home to find his alcoholic, Jesus-obsessed father proceeding to commit suicide by crucifying himself in the front room. Michelle (Leila Mimmack) is fascinated with their mother’s death and goes on to give several conflicting, but always captivating, reports of how she died. And things never really let up; the entire 70 minutes comprises monologue after monologue revealing tale after disturbing tale.

Kelly has created a warped, chaotic and often dreamlike atmosphere designed to shock and confuse us into never quite knowing what is real and what isn’t. Under some highly imaginative direction from Abigail Graham, both actors impressively embrace their challenging roles, delivering long and often complicated speeches with just the right amount of weird, unsettling panache.

McEntyre is particularly compelling as he relates the story central to the narrative, that of him discovering a baby boy in some rubbish and deciding to take the child home to raise himself in the hope of giving him a ‘normal’ life. The irony and sadness are overwhelming and this is another absurd account which beggars belief, but McEntyre is poignantly mesmerising as he relates it.

Kelly’s world is disjointed, confusing and murky, and this piece is not for the faint hearted; but it won’t fail to entertain anyone who likes their theatre to challenge and provoke.

Photo © Richard Davenport

Best of Friends @ Landor Theatre, London – April 2014

Best of Friends started life as The Golden Voice which, due to open last August at the Arts Theatre, disappeared in a cloud of controversy. Reworked, renamed and providing admirable testament to creator Nick Fogarty’s obvious refusal to give up, the piece has finally made it to the stage at the Landor.

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It all starts off quite well, with Mike Chariot (Aidan O’Neill) and Jim Ryan (Nick Fogarty takes a starring role as well as writing book, music and lyrics) rehearsing a song together backstage. Childhood friends who share a passion for music and song writing, they are striving to make their band a success. Everything goes to pot, though, when Chariot wins a tacky reality television show and, abandoning not only his friend and band, but his devoted girlfriend, disappears for 20 years to pursue a life of manufactured fame and cheesy, soulless pop. His return sees him transformed into something of a bitter music mogul wannabe, who attempts to reunite with his friend Jim (now resigned to a life of petty crime) and set up a nightclub designed to scout new talent. Throw a devoted ex and long lost son into the mix and this really should make for a great show.

However, whilst “Stars Falling” is probably the strongest number, and O’Neill’s singing voice is excellent, sadly it is all downhill from here. Whilst Fogarty is clearly a great musician and established song writer, unfortunately he is no actor and, considering they are supposed to be childhood buddies and now teenagers, he would have done far better to cast someone closer in age to the other male lead.  The rest of the music struggles to be remembered, there are aspects of the plot which are confusing and downright difficult to believe and some of the script is pretty cringe-inducing.

The sheer passion is unmistakable, however, and the cast are uniformly excellent, working superbly with what they have. Worthy of particular mention is Rosie Glossop, whose raw, soulful vocals smack with conviction throughout and, quite frankly, steal the show.

Reality television shows and their ability to damage lives is a hot topic at the moment, which should really make a great basis for a musical. However, as things stand, the material on offer here is simply not strong enough to do a promising idea justice.

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes) @ Southwark Playhouse, London – March 2014

One glance at Katharine Heath’s delightful set which takes the shape of a shabby living room dressed in peeling wallpaper and littered with old hats, coats and all other manner of paraphernalia, and it is immediately clear that this latest Sherlock Holmes adaption is going to be fairly traditional. And indeed, rather than jump on a bandwagon that seems hell bent on depicting literature’s most famous detective and accompanying characters with a contemporary, progressive twist, Tacit Theatre’s production seems to stay true to its source material, depicting a “consulting detective” who, played perfectly by a soave Philip Benjamin, smacks of youthful brilliance, arrogance and swagger.

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A Study in Scarlet is Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Holmes story and one of only four actual full-length novels about the detective. It documents his first meeting with Watson who, ravaged from war in Afghanistan, joins him in solving his first murder mystery.  By all accounts, this first novel is not the writer’s strongest and presents one of his most intricate and multi-layered plots, jumping back and forth from London to Utah in an attempt also to explain the motives of an avenging murderer. Probably not the easiest tale to adapt for stage, and things do get a little confusing and muddled at times, but the production rises well to its challenge with actors doubling up skillfully to play both the inhabitants of Baker Street and the distant Mormon settlement.

With all of this going on, Holmes and Watson take almost a back seat in the proceedings, but Lila Whelan and Greg Freeman’s enjoyable script gives them plenty of scope for interaction and they have a great chemistry and banter. Edward Cartwright’s Watson has a touch of the Philip Franks and a touch of the Hugh Laurie about him, and he brings a real warmth and excellent wit to the role. Actor-musicians are a welcome addition to any piece of theatre, and all of them handle their instruments with considerable panache, fully complimenting Annabelle Brown’s terrific original score.

A Study in Scarlet does what it says on the tin and what theatre should do, delivering a thoroughly enjoyable evening that has the audience giggling and guessing until the end.

Rift Zone @ New Diorama Theatre, London – March 2014

I am fascinated with anything to do with Iceland. The Land of Fire and Ice is enigmatic and strange as it is breathtakingly beautiful with its stunning scenery and abundance of folklore. So it was with great expectation that I went along to the New Diorama to review The Rift Zone, a new piece by Night Light Theatre, a company that apparently exists “to bring imagination, creativity and beauty front and centre in the theatre.” The members of the company themselves recently visited Iceland in search of stories, so it sounded like the perfect mix.

riftzone

The first minutes of this production are indeed filled with promise. Great use is made of the theatre’s intimate space by Rhys Jarman, his set design comprising flickering light bulbs and planks of wood to create effects that are delightful and eerie in equal measure and which at times mirror the ethereal quality of the northern lights themselves. John Biddle’s unearthly folk score, performed live by members of the company throughout, is also excellent from the off and reaches an invigorating climax at the end of the piece, accompanied by some superb performances encompassing provocative movement to the music.

The problem is, there is just too much going on. The company has bravely and ambitiously tried to fit the spirit of Iceland, its history and all that it encompasses and stands for into 125 minutes, and unfortunately this just does not work. At the centre of the story are a young brother and sister, Olaf and Alfa, who are pulled into the Rift Zone, a kind of alternate reality which pre-empts the future. Alfa meets Bob, an American hydro engineer who woos her and wins a mining contract at the same time. Giants, trolls, Norse gods and Snorri, a bearded Icelandic historian and poet in his y-fronts, are also thrown into what is quite frankly a bit of a confusing hodgepodge.

The production sounds great and is aesthetically pleasing with some strong performances that overall capture the mystery and magic of a great country. It is clear that it has all been well thought through and passionately researched, the problem is that it is impossible to work out what is happening and why, most of the time. If an audience, for all of the fragments of enjoyment they may glean along the way, are struggling to see the overall point, then surely one of the main objects of live theatre, and something this company prides itself on doing well –storytelling – is largely defeated.