Review: Blue Door – Ustinov Studio

Original Review for Broadway World UK

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Poetic, fragmented and poignant reflection on race, forgetfulness, and legacy

‘Will there really be a morning? Is there such a thing as day? Could I see it from the mountains, if I were as tall as they?’ For Lewis, an African American mathematics professor in the throes of an insomnia and amnesia plagued night in the nineties, with his refusal to go to the Million Man March threatening his marriage and his forgetting of past generations’ plights triggering a tense confrontation with them, it feels like a morning will never come.

From the night emerges a poetic, fragmented and poignant reflection on race, forgetfulness, and legacy enlightened by two fine performances in a thoughtfully directed production from Eleanor Rhode as part of the Ustinov Studio’s UK premieres from the Americas.

Tanya Barfield’s beautifully written Blue Door – a symbol descended from the traditional belief that a door of blue would ward off demons and devils – debuted in 2006, but the black narrative it lays bare, from bondage to defamation, is, like the tonal beats of Barfield’s songs, still drumming on our doors. Continue reading “Review: Blue Door – Ustinov Studio”

Feature & Review: Four Minutes Twelve Seconds – Alma Tavern Theatre

4:12. A click, a fuck, a crack; an act, an echo, an attack: that’s all it takes in James Fritz’s provocative play to force the private lives and perspectives of one family into frighteningly acute focus. A revelatory, effective refiguring of classic themes, from reputation to retribution, into a contemporary frame, Four Minutes confronts a mother and father with a terrifying, incriminating act that forces them to face each other as well as the uncomfortable truth. 4:12. That’s all it takes.

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Yet, it takes a titanic effort to stage a play as deceptively straight and astute, even in the simplicities of the Alma Tavern Theatre, and first-time director Charlotte Hobbs, in a production produced by the West Acting Workshop, attacks it with strength, detail, and a fervour that sometimes outstrips the striking intimacy of the play’s focus. Talking prior to opening night, Charlotte unpicks the complexities that drew her to Fritz’s play for her first directorial effort: ‘the writing! James Fritz is very good at drip-feeding the audience, and there are layers to every line.’

Thrilling and thought-provoking, it pivots on the shifting perspectives of David and Di as a video of their sheltered son in flagrante delicto is posted online, and as David’s facetious father’s pride sharpens into a suspicious defence, Di’s motherly protection shatters under the three-dimensional and non-consensual evidence. Fritz’s writing is witty, devious, and unpredictable, yet, in wilfully veering away from the predictable, it does feel less provocative, and less productive, in its avowal: Continue reading “Feature & Review: Four Minutes Twelve Seconds – Alma Tavern Theatre”

Review: The Borrowers – Tobacco Factory Theatres

Original review for the Reviews Hub

The Borrowers TFT

Truly T’riffic

With a pitter-patter of petite feet and a-pocketing of confectionery, paper planes, and a crisp packet for a great escape, the Factory Theatre is the magical, mischievous, pocket-sized Clock family’s giant playground this Christmas. With witty, loveably believable writing from Bea Roberts, The Borrowers is a whimsical little wonder to warm all hearts this wintertime.

Under the energetic, gentle direction of Nik Partridge, this playful adaptation of Norton’s novel is as delightfully confident and unapologetically joyful as Jessica Hayles’s tiny courageous teenager, Arietty. With her petrified father Pod (Craig Edwards) and plucky mother Homily (Peta Maurice), brave, acrobatic Arietty and the Clock family are forced to escape from their home – with the heroics of Eddie, the bashful human boy she befriends – when bleach-fanatic Aunty Val and her vacuum move in above the floorboards. It’s a cutesy yet timeless tale of compassion, family, and courage, and its perfectly pitched comic performances, particularly Lucy Tuck’s fantastically fanatical Val, fill its pockets full of mischievous charm.

There’s charm in the magic and mischief too, Continue reading “Review: The Borrowers – Tobacco Factory Theatres”

Review: Red Rope Theatre’s Frankenstein – Arnos Vale Cemetery

Original Review for the Reviews Hub

Red Rope Theatre's Frankenstein

Elegiac and gorgeously gothic

Playing God in an Anglican chapel is, like Frankenstein’s Creature, ‘fearless, and therefore powerful’. Amongst the gravestones at Arnos Vale, Red Rope Theatre stitch together and stage their agonised, magnificently imagined Frankenstein’s monster at the cemetery’s Victorian altar in Matt Grinter’s elegiac, gorgeously gothic imagining of Mary Shelley’s classic novel.

Thematically and theatrically atmospheric, Arnos Vale and the novel are Victorian artworks framed by the Ancient Greek: in its title, Frankenstein references the mythological figure ‘Prometheus’, whose actions Victor echoes in creating the Creature, and the nineteenth-century cemetery at Arnos Vale was created to echo the classicism of a Greek necropolis. And, with fingers, faces, and figures under foot, it’s frighteningly fertile ground for playing God.

Grinter’s text is poetic, with some elegantly elegiac monologues for the gifted and frugal cast of three, especially in an elegy to the mother of Danann McAleer’s guilt-plagued, grief-stricken Frankenstein, for whom death has invited itself in and will never leave. Though powerful in its poetry and fearless in the actors’ performances, there are moments that lose their power with the pacing, Continue reading “Review: Red Rope Theatre’s Frankenstein – Arnos Vale Cemetery”

Review: WNO’s La Cenerentola

Original Review: Broadway World UK

WNO's La Cenerentola

The magic’s in the music

The original Italian premiere of Rossini’s rags-to-riches opera was more morally pragmatic than magical: with a ‘goodness triumphs’ moral in its title (‘La bontà in trionfo’), Roman Catholicism restricting an unclothed foot from appearing in the performance, and nineteenth-century theatrics making transformations impractical, the music was the magic. And the music is magical, with all its coloratura, patter, and character from the principals, male chorus, and orchestra magnificently managed by Tomáš Hanus, but there’s still some magic amiss in this staging from Welsh National Opera.

La Cenerentola falls away from the French fairy tale and into the Grimm’s grotesque without a fairy godmother or twelve o’clock curfew, and Joan Font’s staging fuels the fantasy with giant mice and the suggestion that it was all a sugarcoated fever-dream danced in Joan Guillén’s garish costumes.

The opera follows in the footsteps of the fairytale Continue reading “Review: WNO’s La Cenerentola”