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”

Review: The Whale at the Ustinov Studio

Original review: Underdog Reviews

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An odyssey to the very depths of love, loss, and faith

No man is an island, but many a man is marooned on one. Charlie’s island is his couch in Idaho, just about buoyant on a sea of abandoned bottles, and with little more than a laptop to save him from total isolation. With his work and relationships folding under his vast and ever-rising weight, Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale is an odyssey to the very depths of love, loss, and faith.

A titanic, two-hour text with no interval, it’s one that’s alive with intertextuality and intellect. Revelatory in its palpable realism and its revealing plotting, it’s a play that never feels like it’s force-feeding us information from the past, but rather lets it unfold naturally as four visitors – loved ones and lost ones – pass through his living room. Everything bar the undulating waves in the intervening blackouts in Laurence Boswell’s production at Bath’s Ustinov Studio is naturalistic, from Tim Shortall’s dilapidated but detailed apartment set to the perspiration on Charlie’s brow under his ample padding, but those waves allow other whales, of the more emblematic breed, from Melville’s leviathans to the Bible’s behemoths, to bask below the dramatic tide.

The literary – but literal – whales swimming past make the play’s title tough to swallow: Continue reading “Review: The Whale at the Ustinov Studio”

Review: Agnes Colander at the Ustinov Studio

Original review: BroadwayWorldUK

Agnes Colander at Ustinov

Engaging and enlightening

‘Only by forgetting all we’ve ever learned can we learn to live at all’: wise words from a work that was itself, forgotten. Lost to the British Library and brought to life over 100 years later, Harley Granville Barker’s Agnes Colander is an engaging and enlightening look at womanhood and liberation in early 1900s England from one of the Edwardian era’s greatest writers. 

Agnes is an artist living alone, a dangerous portrait of independence in a gallery of decorum. Directed for every detail by theatrical deity Trevor Nunn in the Ustinov Studio, the most intimate and diminutive of theatres, it feels more like sitting in on the seclusions of film set than seeing a play, so evocative are Rob Jones’s designs, Fergus O’Hare’s sound, and Paul Pyant’s ever-darkening lighting, and so privileged and privy is our view to the intimacies of one woman’s determinations and self-discovery. Sometimes, it feels like we’re seeing something before the final edit, and, fittingly, we are: Continue reading “Review: Agnes Colander at the Ustinov Studio”

Review: New Old Friends’ Crimes Under the Sun

Crimes Under the Sun

Cleverly crafted, lovingly teasing take on Agatha Christie

A femme fatale has fallen victim to a killer in the English Riviera, a host of suspects with a whole host of motives happen to be holidaying in the same spot, and detective Artemis Arinae is looking for anything to avoid writing her memoirs… so, whodunnit? Crimes Under the Sun is New Old Friends’ cleverly crafted, lovingly teasing take on Agatha Christie and everyone’s favourite classic crime capers, and though not the perfect crime, it is perfectly entertaining and, in places, criminally funny.

A cast of four play fourteen characters, and their charmingly farcical performances are the crux of the piece: as Artemis, Jill Myers is the most modest of Miss Marples, fusing the frolics together with an ongoing monologue in an outrageous French accent while taking no shit from some chauvinist fellows who assume that a successful inspector must be a man. Feargus Woods Dunlop’s slick script has many a mocking modern-day allusion and is littered with alliterative quips, although some of them are quipped a little too quickly to keep us following closely, but his characters are well-drawn and wonderfully comic. Woods Dunlop plays three of the fourteen: Continue reading “Review: New Old Friends’ Crimes Under the Sun”