‘Howerd’s End’ (Town and Gown, 15-17 July)

“An insight into genius, a glimpse of the dark matter cushioning every star, a sense of a love that dared not speak its name, but spoke instead in a quiet and gentle whisper.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars (Outstanding)

Full disclosure. My credentials as an impartial reviewer for anything connected to the brilliant Mark Farrelly are zero. I’m a huge fan. I’ve been reviewing him since EdFringe ‘12 when he appeared in Roy Smiles’ ‘The Lad Himself: A Celebration of the Life of Tony Hancock’. I’ve seen both his solo shows, and was part of the team that helped bring them into print. Earlier this year I urged the renaming of our little arts thing from Edinburgh49 to GetYourCoatsOn based on a throwaway comment Mark made in an interview with Karl Steele, manager of the Town and Gown. You have been warned.

<><><><><>><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

We enter to find Farrelly nursing a drink and a bevy of grievances large and small. Here is Dennis Heymer, the oh so secret other half of the late, great comedy legend Frankie Howerd. Remembered chiefly as an established mainstream mainstay, Francis Alick Howard, OBE (1917-1992) was the first in that line of non-conformist comics who progressed through the latter half of the previous century. Howerd was followed by the Goons, who were followed by Beyond The Fringe, who were followed by the Pythons, who were followed by Izzard. 

The great strength of this script is that one really doesn’t need to know very much about Howerd’s life to comprehend the drama. Celebrated comedian (40yrs) walks into a bar behind which is a sommelier (28yrs). A spark is kindled between them that will burn light and dark down the discrete decades together. Theirs was a romance set in a time when same-sex relationships, especially life long bonds, were still the love that dared not speak its name.

As Frankie Howerd, Simon Cartwright skillfully treads a tightrope in a performance that remains both recognisable and real without falling into simple caricature. His Howerd is a sympathetic, gentle giant, a little boy lost in a sexually-abusive past, adrift in a secretive and uncertain present, complacent about the Christmases yet to come. It’s a quietly powerful performance that grows louder in the remembering.

As Dennis Heymer and several other characters, Farrelly brings his A-game – that mix of pace and pathos of which he is a master. On stage he is a unique blend of considered spontaneity, obvious vagueness, and resolute indecision. Nobody else presents ultra real people on stage quite as well as Mark Farrelly.

There is a third presence on the stage in this two-hander. June Mendoza’s portrait of Howerd hangs above the mantelpiece throughout, a silent witness to the drama unfolding between the corporeal Dennis Heymer and the ghost of his dead soulmate. The pictures sets the sartorial standard which Cartwright’s costume follows exactly, from the cut of his lapels to the narrowness of his tie. This play is an animation of Mendoza’s capturing in oils of her sitter’s ambiguity, calm, and resilience.

This was an early performance of a production much delayed by the COVID crisis. There were faults and unforced errors. The scene of the characters’ first meeting is not blocked well. Farrelly’s impersonation of Peter Cook needs fine tuning and amplifying. A potentially pivotal final moment, in which the departing Howerd puts Heymer’s smoking jacket back on is lost to the audience by Cartwright’s physical bulk along with a chance to see Heymer reflected in Howerd’s eyes.

Farrelly fans, including this one, will not come away disappointed. They will leave with a trove of theatrical treasures that will shine alongside his past performances. They will gain an insight into his method through the addition of a second performer, one skilled and talented enough to more than hold his own alongside the chic sheik of the solo script. For those of us less familiar with Howerd himself, we will gain an insight into genius, a glimpse of the dark matter cushioning every star, a sense of a love that dared not speak its name, but spoke instead in a quiet and gentle whisper.


Reviewer: Dan Lentell

ALL our Town & Gown coverage? Click here!

‘Adolf’ (Town and Gown, 4th & 5th June)

Pip Utton is THE leading solo player strutting the boards in our time.

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Nae Bad)

Among the most damning things that can be said about Adolf Hitler is that he was a politician. Perhaps the most damning thing that can be said about politicians is that Adolf Hitler was one. We know that Hitler was a politician first and foremost because at the end of his 12 year reign of terror and error, the Germany that he had promised to leave stronger, happier, healthier, and wealthier was in utter ruin. Its cities had been shattered. Its youth slaughtered (yet again) on the altar of bombastic statecraft gone wrong. Its minorities piteously tormented, robbed, and murdered under the smiling guise of due process. Germany had been conquered and was occupied by the very people and nations Hitler had spent his public career vilifying. Germany would not be a single, united state again for the better part of half a century. It takes a politician to make such a god awful mess of things.

Hitler was a narcissist, a liar, a user, an abuser, intellectually shallow, personally callow. His biography is a case study in how the divine spark of a rather ordinary human being was snuffed out by a violently tyrannical parent, an indoctrinating hate-fuelled school teacher, a world indifferent to his early self-delusions of grandeur, exposure to the soul-crushing loneliness of life as an urban vagrant and the horrors of industrial warfare on the Western Front. This hapless self-involved manchild, a figure all too familiar these days, was spun by the fates into the author of atrocities great and small from which the world may never recover. Hitler became what he was because instead of seeking therapy he sought votes. He wanted unthinking adulation when he needed unrelenting help. Why would anyone vote for such a sorry specimen of putrid, pusillanimous, perversion?

Pip Utton is THE leading solo player strutting the boards in our time. No one in the business is more respected by their peers for the sheer bloody effort they bring to each game, set, match and championship. When I first reviewed ‘Pip Utton is Charles Dickens’ at EdFringe in 2011 the master was appearing in no less than three separate solo bouts – as Charles Dickens, as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and as Adolf. It took a toll on the artist, but the art was all the more exquisite for his feat of endurance. Now, with the COVID-crisis having shuttered our theatre spaces, Utton is (naturally) among the first to return. It’s like hearing the purr of a vintage tiger moth or the growl of a perfectly maintained hurricane fighter coming out of a cloudless Duxford sky. A thing of not-so-quiet beauty. An engineering masterpiece roaring back to life.

Utton’s portrait of Hitler is pictured in the bunker in the final hours of that misspent life. Those wanting only a rehash of Bruno Ganz’ landmark and ultra-realistic performance in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2004 biopic ‘Downfall’ will be disappointed, as will those hoping for a return of the camp clown presented by Dick Shawn in Mel Brooks’ 1967 ‘The Producers’. Pip Utton’s ‘Adolf’ isn’t about Hitler. It’s about us.

The show is about how an expert performer can tempt us, lull us, draw us away from what we know to be right and sink us in a mire of half-baked half truths. It is sad to think how many people come away from their encounter with the ultimate politician believing that none of the health warnings apply to their own preferred pedders of political spume. Arguing that one politician is better than another is like claiming that one bucket of lukewarm vomit tastes better than another. As Dr. Ben Carson put it, “We’ve been conditioned to think that only politicians can solve our problems. But at some point, maybe we will wake up and recognize that it was politicians who created our problems.”

Given how many problems the politician Hitler created for so many people it is a feat of editorial genius that this show is as tightly packed as it is. If the production’s Director, the legendary Guy Masterson no less, were a tailor for M&S we would all be looking sharper than Sinatra on our way to the office. Masterson is a genius for getting even very heavy and cumbersome material to hang just right. For all that this is a dark tragedy, there is a light, even a breezy feel to this intense and intensely upsetting piece of theatre.

Aspects of the script are in need of a little updating. These days Prince Harry wears a mask, not a costume, and wants us all to know that he is woker than woke (and open for business). Utton is in better physical shape than any of us, so the line about a tubby little English actor is as discorant as Blackadder’s describing Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent as fat. But what’s so impressive (if not altogether unexpected) is how well the script has held up over nearly 30 years of performance. It’s proof positive that we cannot hear its warnings too many times. Whether we choose to heed those warnings on the other hand…


Reviewer: Dan Lentell

ALL our Town & Gown coverage? Click here!

Town and Gown, Cambridge – 2021 Season Interview: Shell Suit Cher AND Believe In Bingo & Bingo at Tiffany’s with Audrey Heartburn!

“Years of dramatic disco dancing and rolling around dance floors has not been kind to my lumbar region.”

WHO: Tracey Collins: Writer and performer

WHAT (Cher): “Imagine if Cher left showbiz behind, swapped leather for leisure wear and became a shell suit wearing, chain smoking, bingo host…

Well, imagine no longer as award-winning performer Tracey Collins brings her brand new weird and wonderful character to the stage for SHELL SUIT CHER: I Believe in Bingo! 

She’s flammable and her balls are on fire! 

* Laugh, dance and play to win life-changing prizes!

* Singalong to all Cher’s hit songs hilariously reworked!

* Be amazed as Shell Suit Cher unzips the story of her wild journey from Vegas to Mecca and beyond! 

She’s got balls babe!

WHAT (Audrey): “Daaarlings!

Calling all dream makers, heart breakers and bingo lovers!

Join award winning character comedian Tracey Collins (Tina T’urner Tea Lady) as she hosts Bingo at Tiffany’s with Audrey Heartburn! An evening of hilarious bingo games, raucous singalongs and glamorous dancing!

Laugh, dance and play to win luxury prizes as Audrey spins her deluxe cage of bingo balls and shakes her maracas to a marvellous party soundtrack.

Fresh from performing all over the UK, including a sell-out Edinburgh Festival Fringe run in 2019, Audrey Heartburn leaves Hollywood once again in search of love and laughter in the real world.”

WHERE: Town and Gown Pub & Theatre, Cambridge

WHEN (Cher): 11th June 2021 and 3 other dates

WHEN (Audrey): 2nd July and 27th August 2021

MORE: Click Here!


What does Cambridge mean to you?

I adore Cambridge! It’s such a beautiful place. I have wonderful memories of going on a guided punt river tour in the winter – which was very romantic. Taking in the architecture and then sitting in a cosy pub for hours.

Tell us about your show.

I perform two regular events at The Town & Gown Theatre. ‘Bingo at Tiffanys with Audrey Heartburn’ and ‘Shell Suit Cher – Believe In Bingo’. The shows merge musical character comedy performance with bingo games.

I’ve been writing and performing character comedy for almost a decade now, and in recent years I have really enjoyed merging my heightened, ridiculous character comedy with songs, games and plenty of audience interaction. Its a chance for the audience to let go, have fun, play together and win some fabulous prizes!

The two shows differ in the concept, story and style. ‘Bingo at Tiffanys’ is a melodramatic, classy, night of entertainment delight! Whereas ‘Believe In Bingo’ is a wild, trashy evening hosted by Cher in a shell suit with pop-rock anthem parody songs and a lot of costume changes!

What kind of art makes you ‘Get Your Coat On’ and go see it?

Oooh I am a huge fan of mixed bill variety shows. I especially love Pull The Other One in London, where you’ll always find incredible creativity and freedom. I love venues such as Bethnal Green Working Mens Club and the eclectic shows they curate. I also adore Lenny Beige and his band of freaks – he always puts on an amazing show.

I love The Edinburgh Festival Fringe and really hoping to return again. Nothing beats having no plan and wandering into a show in a sweaty cave and being mesmerised by an artist/ company you’ve never heard of.

You’re the age you are now. What’s the one thing you wish you could tell your younger self? What’s the one thing you’d like your older self to remember about you now?

I would tell my younger self to look after your back! Years of dramatic disco dancing and rolling around dance floors has not been kind to my lumbar region.

I would like my older self to remember this time of creativity and freedom. To cherish the random and ridiculous memories.


LIKE WHAT YOU JUST READ? FOLLOW US ON TWITTER! FIND US ON FACEBOOK! OR SIGN UP TO OUR MAILING LIST!

INTERESTED IN BEING INTERVIEWED TOO? CLICK HERE!

“The biggest lesson has been to trust in the strength, power and resilience of young carers.” – Playwright Matt Woodhead discusses ‘Who Cares’

“We want to find those unidentified young carers, get them the support they need and tell them – You are not on your own.”

WHAT: “There are an estimated 700,000 young people caring for a loved one in the UK. One third of these young carers come from low income families. Many do not have access to essential technology such as wifi/laptops/smartphones to help them do school work or manage their caring responsibilities.

On 9th February 2021 at 14.15, award-winning ‘​Who Cares’ ​will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4. This gripping verbatim production is based on 2 years of interviews with young carers and offers a rare insight into their lives of young carers in Salford. The show was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the House of Lords and it embarked on two national tours.”

WHO: “Matt Woodhead is the co-artistic director of LUNG. Who Cares was produced by The Lowry and LUNG in partnership with Gaddum.”

LISTEN TO THE SHOW: Here!


Why ‘Who Cares‘?

Oh my days, there are SO MANY reasons why! There are an estimated 450,000 young carers in the UK who are hidden. This means they are caring for a loved one behind closed doors, unknown to services. They literally aren’t
receiving any support. Who Cares is for them. The show has been on two national tours, performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and it’s just been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. We want to find those unidentified young carers, get them the support they need and tell them – You are not on your own.

What’s the one thing (is there a one thing?) that individuals can do to support a young person caring for a loved one in the UK?

You’re spot on – there are so many things people can do to support a young carer. One third of young carers are from low income families. We want to get vital technology to these teenagers who need things like laptops and phones to fulfil their caring responsibilities. RIGHT NOW, we are trying to raise £5,000 to support young carers who are facing digital poverty.

The show has played at the Fringe and the UK House of Lords, which crowd is tougher?

I completely filled my pants at the thought of both audiences! Fringe theatre goers were scary coz I got the fear it was going to turn into Mean Girls. Decision makers at the House of Lords was terrifying coz it was like we had one shot to make some political change. It was totally fine though. On both occasions the young people and the power of their stories swooped in and saved the day.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of this creative journey?

So many things!!! I think the biggest lesson has been to trust in the strength, power and resilience of young carers. Who Cares is based form 200 hours of interviews with Antonia-Rae, Ciaron, Kerry and Paige. Their voices are at the
heart of this play. These young people spoke their truth and it’s such a powerful thing.

LUNG specialises in verbatim scripts. What are the particular challenges of that method of writing?

If I had a pound for every time I went into an existential tail spin about making verbatim theatre, I’d be loaded. For me, the thing that keeps me up at night is whether the people whose story is being told are happy. With Who Cares it’s been so important that Antonia-Rae, Ciaron, Kerry and Paige have been involved in every step of the process. Casting, reading drafts of the script, choosing the songs in the show – you name it, they did it. A lot of challenges that verbatim theatre sometimes throws up have been resolved by giving autonomy over to these young carers. This has been the key to making the play so artistically exciting.

Verbatim scripts often focus on important stories, stories that involve a lot of heartache. Are there any lighter moments to be had along the way?

Even in some of the darkest moments in life, I think it’s human to find joy. There are so many light moments in ‘Who Cares‘. As well as focusing on the reality of caring for a loved one, the play gives an insight into the day to day drama of being a teenager. There is everything in this play from the crush of the morning school bus to failed dates at Nando’s.

How have the original contributors responded to seeing their lives on stage?

Ah it’s been amazing. Antonia-Rae, Ciaron, Kerry and Paige all did speeches when the show was performed at the House of Lords. For me it was so humbling and incredible to see these young carers not only standing up for their rights, but for the rights of young carers across the UK. I don’t want to steal their thunder though… If anyone wants to hear what they made of the play, check out the BBC Broadcast, they do a fantastic segment at the end…

What should be the one thing that people know about ‘Who Cares‘ before taking their seats?

This is real life. These are real stories. This is happening right now.

You’ve been a script reader for Leeds Playhouse, Chichester Festival Theatre; The Papatango Playwriting Prize. What are you looking for? What’s the thing most likely to set off an alarm bell or make you shout ‘NEXT!’ in you head?

For me it’s all about the story and the voice. Andrea Dunbar wrote her first play in the back of an exercise book. It’s not about having a polished script that is beautifully formatted. I think for writers, the main thing is having a story you are burning to tell. A story that can’t wait another second longer to be told. That is usually the most powerful thing.

What’s next for LUNG and ‘Who Cares‘?

LOADS. We are not slowing down. We have a sexy, high quality recording of the show and education resources to accompany it. This will be rolled out nationally in the autumn for schools to access for free. If any teachers or services that support young carers would like more information, click here!

LIKE WHAT YOU JUST READ? FOLLOW US ON TWITTER! OR SIGN UP TO OUR MAILING LIST!

Interview: seeds (postponed for the duration)

“…brace yourself, you’re in for an emotive and important ride!”

WHO: Anastasia Osei-Kuffour, actor

WHAT: “On Michael Thomas’ birthday, his cake sits in his mother’s living room, its candles burning undisturbed. Jackie wants to clear her conscience, whilst Evelyn’s got a big speech to deliver on the 15th anniversary of Michael’s fatal stabbing. Are some things better left unsaid?

Shortlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award, seeds tells the story of two mothers united in sorrow, sharing the hardship of protecting their sons.”

WHERE: Traverse 2

DATES: Postponed for the duration

TIMES: 20:00

MORE: Click Here! (Including information about possible disruptions to the tour)


Why ‘seeds’?

When I first read the play, the writing hooked me: the measured way Mel writes means you’re constantly trying to work out what is and will happen. It’s a real thriller. I feel that it’s unique in its representation of two middle-aged women, two mothers fighting for their sons in a world where the rise in knife crime means that too many families are dealing with the aftermath of these tragedies.

What’s the one thing about this show that everyone should know BEFORE they take their seats?

This play presents two characters often underrepresented on stage and deals with subjects that feel so urgent. It might feel tense, uncomfortable at times and triggering because of the subject matter it explores but these ideas need to be explored in order to create change. So brace yourself, you’re in for an emotive and important ride!

What makes this production unique?

The fact that it looks at those left behind after a tragic incident, years after it happened, which is something that the media doesn’t often do. I feel that, as a society, we need to support those who are still dealing with the pain of loss years later and be aware of the effects it has on families and loved ones. ‘seeds’ explores real-world, important issues, it feels like something that can touch people and be a catalyst for change.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of rehearsals?

That this production was going to work out as well as it has. At the start of working on any project, you hope and pray that you can create something of quality that resonates with people. I knew that the material was strong, so I wanted to do it justice. The feedback from audiences has been very positive so far so I really thank God for what we as a team have achieved.


LIKE WHAT YOU JUST READ? FOLLOW US ON TWITTER! FIND US ON FACEBOOK! OR SIGN UP TO OUR MAILING LIST!

Antigone, Interrupted (The Traverse: Feb 20 – 22 : 19:30: 1hr)

“An elegant and transparent solo piece of dance”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Antigone, interrupted is somatic poetry, cathartic ritual, political embodiment. 

Lately I’ve been coming back to Jonathan Burrows’s handbook and something I read really caught my eye: Simple things sometimes accumulate in virtuosistic ways. 

That’s the beauty of simplicity: with few tools we treasure infinite assets. Antigone, interrupted is an elegant and transparent solo piece of dance where the Greek tragedy is revisited through contemporary storytelling. 

It is great to see a collaboration that actually depicts Scotland’s reality: heterogeneous, European, international. Under the direction of Joan Clevillé (Catalan), the body of Solene Weinachter (French) orbits around the myth while her voice lies behind, to gently comment about  it with the audience. Sortir-de-soi- the Anagnorisis of the character/performer of Antigone. 

French philosophy comes to mind. Solene’s movement seems to deconstruct the levels of the body, unravelling the corps sans organes (the body without organs) of Deleuze, closely linked with the Théâtre de la Cruauté ( Theatre of Cruelty) of Artaud- how the State exercises violence against the bodies, and punishes them (Foucault). Modern Day Catalonia’s situation (just to name one) comes to mind. Young bodies and old bodies getting hit, bodies stretching, bodies longing from freedom. This longing, along with Antigone’s moral fight, is sketched in Solene’s movement when she plays with disruption, intermittence, reassembly, estrangement, awkwardness. The conversation with Creon using her feet while talking is a defiance of power (mockery of modern politician’s gesticulation?). In any case, the way Solene interprets Creon and the Chorus is a clear political parody. 

Discovering the revolutionary body, Antigone, interrupted is also an analysis of desire. Desire blooms out of an absence. Freedom and desire are like Eros and Thanatos: they are interdependent. The dynamic and pulse of the choreography is anxious, violent, organic- the character is in Agon, in agony. The body recognises its own existence: it’s corrupted, it’s dirty, it sweats, it squirms, it struggles, it’s exposed, it’s naked, it’s covered, it falls, it rises. 

The ritual side of Greek drama (post-modern performance always wants to come back to that moment) is honored on this show. The clever configuration of the audience, oval and on-stage, improves audience’s immersion, like a storytelling session or a foliada around the hearth. Sharing time, just breathing, we meet the Catharsis. Word and movement are completely melted. It’s not just related with time or silence- Solene’s dance outlines her words and her voice structures her movement. Literal body language. Solene Weinachter has, like a friend would say, a Daimon that is shown on her multifaceted skills. The dramaturgy is clearly made for her comedy and naturalness. Despite being a tragedy, we couldn’t stop laughing throughout the show. Through dance, power and old-fashioned narratives can be subverted. Maybe the birth of tragedy was that.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Helena Salguiero (Seen 20 Feb)

Interview: Harpy (20 March ’20)

“Sometimes the life beyond Edinburgh for a piece comes in a way you never imagined. It always surprises.”

WHO: Philip Meeks: Writer

WHAT: “National treasure Su Pollard gives a one-woman tour-de-force performance in this razor-sharp and bittersweet dark drama.

Birdie’s a hoarder. The neighbours call her a harridan and a harpy, although most have never even met her. They see her hoard as a hazard for house prices. But it isn’t rubbish. It’s her life’s work and it exists because years ago something deeply cherished was stolen from her; Birdie’s not been able to give up anything since.
She’ll do anything to get this priceless thing back. Anything at all.

National treasure Su Pollard gives a one-woman tour-de-force performance in this razor-sharp and bittersweet dark drama from Fringe First award-winner Philip Meeks (‘Kiss Me Honey, Honey!‘, ‘Murder, Margaret and Me’).”

WHERE: Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh

DATES: 20 March

TIMES: 19:30

MORE: Click Here!


Why Harpy?

Harpy is one of the many derogatory terms about women borrowed from mythology. I’m sure these terms were originally used in this way by men and since one of the themes of the play is that men are frightened of women, like rich people are frightened of poor people, I decided it was a good short sharp title.

The play is also partly a homage to the sub-genre of horror films often called Grand Dame Guignol. The first of these was ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane‘, which was born out of cruelty. Jack Warner wanted to see how desperate two of his aging out of work stars really were. He cast Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as aged grotesques and then marketed the film by spinning tales of battles between the pair on set. Of course, these two fantastic women triumphed and the movie saw a revival of both their careers. So, Harpy has a sort of dark thriller feel to it.

Finally, the story is about a hoarder and in mythology Harpies hoarded precious things they often stole from their victims.

Harpy premiered at EdFringe’18. Does the Fringe still have value as an incubator of productions?

Absolutely. But you have to really work out what you’re doing when you take something there. I’ve tried taking plays that already existed and it can feel like knocking a square peg in a round hole. I think its best if you do something you create specifically for the environment. An idea you know you will be able to expand and build upon beyond the time and production constraints of Edinburgh. But first you have to have to focus on making it as complete as it can be for Edinburgh and have no expectations for a life beyond. Often you can have a huge success and the play will never see the light of day again. Sometimes the life beyond Edinburgh for a piece comes in a way you never imagined. It always surprises.

Of course you need stamina for Edinburgh. It’s a bit more brutal than it used to be. But whenever you feel you’ve got a huge disaster on your hands you don’t have to try too hard to find someone having a tougher time than you. In 2018 one of the shows at our venue was really struggling and I overheard one of the actors desperately trying to flog it to punters by saying, “you must come and see us. We share a dressing room with Su Pollard.”

Are there any differences between what was on stage in ’18 and what’s going on stage in 2020?

We have a largely new creative team and the director Abigail is bringing a wonderful energy to the proceedings – she’s really asked me why I’ve written what I’ve written. It’s great to be challenged so wonderfully and makes the writing process far less lonely. The production is bigger and we’ve now got an elaborate set full of surprises, more musical moments and far more nods to movies that inspired it. I think its sadder and funnier. I’ve also been able to build upon the fact that it is set in the corner of South London where I live and all the people Birdie encounters actually exist.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of rehearsals? 

Why there are so many parakeets living in London! The reason is now in the play and it’s one of my favourite bits.


LIKE WHAT YOU JUST READ? FOLLOW US ON TWITTER! FIND US ON FACEBOOK! OR SIGN UP TO OUR MAILING LIST!

Trojan Horse (Traverse Theatre, Feb 11-12: 1h 15 mins)

“Realistic, respectful and approached with careful integrity. “

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars: Outstanding

LUNG theatre has gained popularity recently for their creative championing of minority demographics and events neglected by the media. They have done well to establish their own verbatim style that values justice, professionalism and integrity; attributes that shine very brightly throughout Trojan Horse. Written by Matt Woodhead and Helen Monks, Trojan Horse premiered in Edinburgh in 2018 when it won both the Fringe First award and the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award. Trojan Horse is adapted from over 200 hours of interviews, containing public documents and speeches taken directly from public interviews. The performance follows the famous 2014 scandal that surrounded the ‘alleged’ conspiracy within Park View Academy, Nansen Primary and several other Birmingham schools by Islamist extremists, who were supposedly planning to infiltrate the curriculum by enforcing their religious ethos. 

It is in this sense of verisimilitude that LUNG really excel in honoring the story of the teachers, parents and students who were directly affected by the inquiries. The acting style was realistic, respectful and approached with careful integrity. 

The fast-paced dynamicity, and slick transitioning between narratives in the show meant that occasionally I had to remind myself that what I was hearing verbatim stories, and not born-fictional narrative. The cast (Komal Amin, Mustafa Chaudhry, Gurkiran Kaur, Qasim Mahmood, Keshini Misha) work excellently as an ensemble, representing the people at the heart of the enquiry with pride and respect. Mahmood is especially memorable for portraying an honorable image of the selfless Tahir Alam; former chairman of governors at Park View, who was banned from his role for undermining ‘fundamental British values’. 

In perhaps its most artful navigation of difficult topics, the piece covers some understandably heavy political content, which is offered in a way that provides context to new audiences without demeaning them. These moments are paralleled masterfully with moments of relief, even comedy. It feels almost wrong to think of laughing together given the subject matter, but in a way, it reflects LUNG’s message on human connectedness beautifully.

As in most of LUNG’s work, Trojan Horse really emphasised the extent that the media can influence public opinion by omitting fact, corrupting the truth and in this case, propagating islamophobia for the purpose of views and retweets. These messages are supported by the constant presence of mobile phones and snippets of radio broadcasts as a key source of communication in the piece. It is here that the piece begs us to confront how we make judgements. Why are we, the British public, so quick to believe the headlines rather than hunt for the full story? When do we begin to accept accountability for how our complacency feeds into the plague of mass-media falsity in Britain? The continuing popularity of LUNG’s Trojan Horse only goes to emphasize its relevance today, and that we still have a lot to learn from our past mistakes.

Trojan Horse is a brilliant example of how theatre can create space to reflect upon socio-political and economic matters that is both cathartic and politicizing. It is clear that the LUNG team are practicing the proactivity that they preach throughout their creative and production processes. The show’s engagement continues beyond the parameters of the stage space, with fundraising, community engagement consultants and an academic advisor. In writing Trojan Horse, Monks and Woodhead had recognised an injustice in the world and gave voice to the voiceless. As a Theatre graduate, seeing Trojan Horse highlighted the absolute necessity for my generation to utilise our privilege, and start writing and creating with/for our communities. In the words of Razwan Faraz: “Young people: do it, tell the story. Because the people at the top aren’t”.


“What are you doing for society?”

At the end of the tour leg, LUNG informed us that they will be taking Trojan Horse to the Houses of Parliament to fight for the Government to commit to a definition of Islamophobia. This success only demonstrates the power of this piece of documentary theatre in implementing real change, and I look forward to seeing what they have in store for us next. Please check out and sign their petition calling on the UK Government to adopt a definition of Islamophobia at: https://bit.ly/2NMe673

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Paige Stillwell (Seen February 11)

Interview: Hay Fever (25 – 28 March ’20)

“Why not put on play where you can forget the outside world and just laugh?”

WHO: Martin Foreman: Director

WHAT: “Meet the wealthy, self-obsessed and eccentric Bliss family; grande dame of the stage and mother Judith, novelist and father David, and their two children Sorel and Simon. Each has invited a guest to spend the weekend at their country house in rural England – and each has neglected to tell the others. Needless to say friction and hilarity ensue in this classic British comedy of manners.

As we enter the new decade EGTG takes us back 100 years with Noel Coward’s Hay Fever. Inspired by Coward’s acquaintance with silent film star Laurette Taylor, Hay Fever has been popular with audiences since its premiere in 1925, remaining relevant with its astute observations of family life and human folly.”

WHERE: Assembly Roxy

DATES: 25 – 28 March

TIMES: 19:30

MORE: Click Here!


Why Hayfever?

The end of March, when the play is put on, is the beginning of spring, just the right time for something light and frothy. Besides, whether we’re talking climate change or domestic or international politics, last year was turbulent and this year is turning out to be just as bad – and that’s before we factor in coronavirus. Why not put on play where you can forget the outside world and just laugh?

If you scratch below the surface, however, you can see both how cleverly plotted Coward’s play is. Independently of each other, the younger generation of the household invite older guests while their parents bring in visitors young enough to be their children. The volatile dynamics of the household – everyone strong-minded and with few restraints on their behaviour – mean that conflict is inevitable and the guests struggle to keep their emotional balance as the repercussions ripple through the evening. And while the cast – particularly the Bliss family – are close to caricatures, there is enough humanity in each of them to hold our attention and to find their situation believable. By the end of the play it is almost a relief to find that the storm has passed and everyone has come through it more or less unscathed.

What’s the one thing about this show that everyone should know BEFORE they take their seats?

Zoe is a cat.

All right, if you want something more substantial, the fact that Coward based the character of diva Judith Bliss on an American actress, Laurette Taylor. Whether she knew that was the case – he confessed in an autobiography that was published several years before she died – is unknown. I like to think that Taylor would have been flattered by the comparison.

What makes this production unique?

The cast! A group of very talented actors, half of whom are EGTG regulars and the other half new. Everyone is very supportive and rehearsals are definitely fun. I don’t want to name any of the nine-strong cast in particular because they are all good and contributing the same enthusiasm.

I would like to say something else, but when we proposed a significant change to the Noel Coward estate that we felt would enhance the comedy while keeping the spirit of the play, they said no. Perhaps we will go back to them in a few years to see if they have changed their mind.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of rehearsals?

We didn’t pay attention to the fact that there are far too many props! It’s a very complicated play to put on on a relatively small stage. Drawing paper, drinks, flowers are just a few things that are brought on and have to be taken off. Meanwhile Clara the housekeeper has to serve breakfast for eight at every performance. Haddock, anyone?

Costumes are another issue, since everyone has to dress for dinner and the dressing-room will be crowded with skirts coming off and gowns going on, while the men fiddle with ties and braces. But practice makes perfect and with backstage help – without which no play goes well – I expect the production will run smoothly.


LIKE WHAT YOU JUST READ? FOLLOW US ON TWITTER! FIND US ON FACEBOOK! OR SIGN UP TO OUR MAILING LIST!

I Can Go Anywhere (Traverse Theatre: Dec 10 – 21 : 20:00: 1hr 20 mins)

Photo: Lara Cappelli

Photo: Lara Cappelli

“A nail-biting reflection on identity politics”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Outstanding

Award-winning Scottish playwright Douglas Maxwell’s new play I Can Go Anywhere sees Jimmy, a caricature of youthful optimism and mod-culture, arrive on the doorstep of Professor Stevie Thomas. Jimmy is seeking help in a last-ditch effort to be granted asylum in the UK. Dressed in his pinstripe suit and green parka combo, Jimmy is a larger-than-life comic book embodiment of all things MOD and all he wants is to prove he belongs. But Stevie, a disheartened academic, is suffering his own identity crisis, fresh from a break-up and meandering in the lows of a “transitional phase” in life.

Maxwell’s latest play follows a night of both confrontation and camaraderie between two men as they share vulnerabilities, anxieties and bond over 70’s vinyl. Both Nebli Basani (Jimmy) and Paul McCole (Stevie) hold the stage well as a partnership and their conflict offers a considerate perspective on identity politics. Eve Nicol’s direction also does well to present the character’s complex power and pride driven battle in 75 minutes, without seeming rushed or abridged. Basani’s performance as Jimmy is, no doubt, one of the best I have seen at the Traverse this year and by far the most captivating part of I Can Go Anywhere. From the moment that Stevie (Paul McCole) opens the front door, Jimmy explodes to life with an energy that is both nervous and endearing, embodying a personification of rogue mod that we recognise too well from contemporary British drama.

Ultimately, I Can Go Anywhere is urging us to face the way in which ignorance governs cultural identity, specifically in the process of seeking asylum in the UK. As we reel in the hostile aftershock of the General Election, there could not be a more appropriate time for a play to confront cultural identity. At times, Stevie and Jimmy’s to-and-fro of insecurities feels symbolic of the UK’s own divided identity. Here, there is a shared sense of feeling lost and a human desire to belong. For those living in Scotland in 2019 it seems ever more necessary for us to reflect on these notions and ask ourselves: What does it mean to be British today? Are our identities defined by the cultural groups to which we belong? What does it mean to belong

I Can Go Anywhere is both humorous and thought provoking, exploring notions of belonging, solidarity and authenticity in contemporary Britain. It concludes (if not a little clichéd) with a Billy Bragg style call to arms that urges the audience to look beyond appearances and judgments. Like Bragg’s political songs, Maxwell’s play uses mod culture to emphasise the collective power of music in creating solidarity amongst people. Let’s appreciate our cultural movements whether art, music or fashion, for how they help us understand how we identify with each other in this fleeting world. Maxwell states that I Can Go Anywhere evolved from desire to show that “art is far more important and powerful than politics”. Whilst the performance’s content certainly addresses this, my only qualm would be that the play’s dependence on naturalism is somewhat limiting and two-dimensional. Perhaps there was a missed opportunity here to engage with a more progressive and interdisciplinary style of performance that might explicitly confront the relationship between art and politics. 

 Despite this, I Can Go Anywhere delivers a nail-biting reflection on identity politics in the UK’s current climate of uncertainty and stands as a valuable experience for all audiences; regardless of class, culture or political views. The Traverse 2’s intimate and open space adheres to the nature of the play, allowing the audience to see and recognise solidarity with one another on the fringes of the stage space. After all, is it not the purpose of theatre to offer a moment of unity in an otherwise hostile world? 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Paige Stillwell (Seen 12 December)