Favourite: Normal People

A feat of authenticity and nuance in portraying adolescence

For a story so unaffected and so frank in its narrative style, the adaptation of Normal People is as devastating as it is frustrating, a feat of authenticity and nuance in portraying adolescence that’s so true-to-life that you feel every glance, every faltering ‘I love you’, and every note of Yazoo’s ‘Only You’ as it plays over the final scene of episode three.

Following two Irish students as they fall in and out of love, the writers, directors, and actors focus on depicting the experience of sex, isolation, grieving, and longing with a weight and fragility that’s not afforded to stories of adolescence very often, and all with a soundtrack that echoes every scene to devastating effect. To echo Yazoo again, ‘it’s like a story of love’, and like all love stories, it’ll leave you feeling a little fragile, and yet so grateful for the love you gave to it.

Originally for Culturefly’s Yearly Favourites Feature 2020

Review: Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell

Like grieving, this novel lingers, delicate and devastating

A tale of devastating grief with Shakespearean influence, O’Farrell’s novel is an elegy to the fragility of life, and follows the everyday, everlasting, ever-lingering effect of loss on a playwright and his wife living in Stratford-upon-Avon in the late 1500s.

Though this is evidently Shakespeare, as he also experienced the death of his young child early in life, O’Farrell’s Will isn’t the illustrious playwright, but the young Latin tutor falling in love, the longed-for father following his work to London, adrift from his wife and children in Stratford, and the artist so desperate to author a different life for his lost child that this act of preservation proves too poetic, too disaffecting, for his grieving wife, Agnes.

As, after all, it’s not the lofty poetry of Will’s life in London that’s the focus of the novel, but the practicalities of death and the private duty that Agnes devotes her life to in Stratford. Laced with detail and with all of O’Farrell’s elegance, Hamnet, like grieving, lingers, delicate and devastating, long after the final act.

Originally for Culturefly’s Yearly Favourites Feature

Review: The Five – Hallie Rubenhold

Polly. Annie. Elizabeth. Kate. Mary Jane.

These are the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper, a Victorian figure whose famously violent legacy still plagues the streets of the Whitechapel district of East London, with walks, fictions, and periodicals dedicated to offences so vicious and folkloric that they and their faceless culprit are the focus of deathly fascination.

The five – Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Kate Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly – were left with a far less illustrious legacy. A footnote to their antagonist, canon-fodder for the anecdote, they were scapegoats, accepted as prostitutes without proof, disfigured, disgraced, displayed as photographs of defaced corpses, and, largely, forgotten from their own stories in favour of the surgical details of their deaths.

Forgotten, that is, until The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper: Continue reading “Review: The Five – Hallie Rubenhold”

Review: Matilda the Musical UK Tour

Original review for the Reviews Hub

Matilda the Musical.jpeg

Mischief, magic, and as much charm as the original tale

‘Just because I find myself in this story, it doesn’t mean that everything is written for me’: ah, the wisdom of children – the whimsical wonder and childlike delight that children can’t wait to outgrow and adults wish for once again is the foundation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s literature. With all of Dahl’s wisdom and a little childlike wonder, Matilda the Musical is Denis Kelly’s delightful adaptation of Dahl’s Matilda, the wisest little worm of all.

A precocious child prodigy flipping through Dickens and Dostoevsky at five years old, Matilda is desperate to grow up and escape from a family – coiffed and vociferous in fantastic performances from Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill – that prefer the sedative effects of television to the fanciful dance of their daughter’s fairy tales. Escaping to the autocratic tutelage of Crunchem Hall, Matilda is taught the toughest class of all: even teachers, like Carly Thoms’s ‘pathetic’ and empathetic Miss Honey, can’t escape from ‘fighting the creatures that you have fight each night’, even if they’re all grown up, and particularly if that creature is the terrifying Trunchball. Continue reading “Review: Matilda the Musical UK Tour”

Review: Gecko’s Institute – Bristol Old Vic

Original Review for Broadway World UK

Gecko's Institute

Physical theatre full of aching truth and tactility

Theatre is physical: isolated from its spectacle and pageantry, theatre’s principal narrative tools are physical figures in a physical space. The effect that a space can produce in its  occupants is the focus of physical theatre aces Gecko Theatre’s Institute, a work that perfectly illustrates with grace, poignancy, and fragility the effect of a severely institutional space on its defenceless occupants.

Artistic Director, deviser, and dancer Amit Lahav envisions an industrial dystopia that crystallises as set designer Rhys Jarman’s greyed and glowering citadel of desks and towering drawers. Alight with Chris Swain’s versatile lighting and singing with Dave Price’s lyrical original score and the electric dissonance of Nathan Johnson’s sound design, it’s a transcendent stage for a set of devised, genre-defying vignettes.

Though the nature of the institute – for sanctuary or incarceration, as a vision of an austere future or a vestige of an afflicted past – is strategically vague, and the narrative structurally nonlinear, the physical and psychological effects that institutionalisation elicits are evocative and visceral. With flashing lights and electronic strikes echoing through the space and inflicting the strict structure and invasive feel of the Institute on the spectator and occupant alike, it’s physical theatre that forces itself to be felt. Continue reading “Review: Gecko’s Institute – Bristol Old Vic”