Big Guns

Within seconds of walking into see Big Guns at The Yard Theatre there is an overpowering sense that something very different is about to happen. The set takes up the entire width of the stage and is essentially a black, ramp that starts by the feet of the audience, and gradually inclines at about 30 degrees towards the back of the stage.

Debra Baker and Jessye Romeo, Big Guns at The Yard Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet (3)

Actors Debra Baker and Jessye Romeo sit inside a cut out space in the centre of the inclining ramp, that resembles an open laptop. They are wearing 3D glasses, eating popcorn and drinking fizz. The 3D glasses inform the audience that we are in a modern-day context. The glasses also suggest Baker and Romeo are watching something. It appears as if they are in a cinema, but there’s popcorn all over the floor which they are also sitting on, so perhaps they are at home. Perhaps they are watching us – the audience, getting comfortable and taking our seats. It feels unnerving being watched.

Baker, Romeo and the cut out space within centre stage, are illuminated in red, the rest of the stage is pitch black. Occasionally a torchlight or two provide the only form of lighting.

The dialogue is rich, dense, pacey and spoken into microphones that are doing strange things and echoes with their voices. They speak in short sentences. Sentences that are not always finished by the person starting them, but by the person listening. It’s like a tennis game of words bouncing off from one person to the next. The rally is quick, lengthy and engaging, but difficult to keep up with. An overwhelming torrent of words are exchanged and images conjured that the brain struggles to process. It is moving too fast and moments of silence are all too infrequent.

The musical score adds to this tension and builds nervousness. It is eerie, intimidating, threatening and deeply intense. It confirms the underlying edginess of the dialogue, and offers a form of respite from it, in a peculiar way.

Jessye Romeo and Debra Baker, Big Guns at The Yard Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet (5)

Big Guns at the Yard Theatre Written by Nina Segal Directed by Dan Hutton Produced in association with Martha Rose Wilson Set/Costume Design by Rosie Elnile Lighting by Katharine Williams Sound by Kieran Lucas Cast Debra Baker Jessye Romeo

Respite for Baker and Romeo, however, is not an option. Throughout the 70 minute play, they deliver a skilful, energetic and brilliantly powerful performance of non-stop, fast-paced and unrelenting line after line.

Big Guns is a reflection of the contemporary information age in which we live. An age that affords us the power to do and see virtually anything with the aid of an internet connection, yet at the same time assaults and confuses as we try to keep up with the tremendous pace of it all.

Big Guns presents its racing dialogue as an allegory of the information age. It does this by impressively generating similar feelings of not fully knowing what to do, or how to deal with the deluge of information, while also posing such questions as: Why is trolling and threatening the girl who does YouTube make-up tutorials acceptable and funny? What does professing your undying love for your partner on a public blog really say about you? How do we negotiate the distinction between public and private life? Are we, or are we not, being watched? And what happens now that death, public executions and beheadings are all so accessible online?

I was completely blown away! The masterful script and direction, along with the evocative music, haunting lighting and the superbly executed performances of Baker and Romeo make this play, one I most definitely must come back to.

Big Guns can be seen at Hackney Wick’s The Yard Theatre from 21st March – 8th April. Running time is about 70 minutes. Tickets start from £7.50 and can be booked at http://www.theyardtheatre.co.uk/event/big-guns/#booknow.

CAST and CREW:

Written by: Nina Segal.

Directed by: Dan Hutton.

Cast: Debra Baker, Jessye Romeo.

Stage design: Rosie Elnile.

Lighting: Katharine Williams.

Music: Kieran Lucas.

Production management: Ben Karakashian.

Produced by: Martha Rose Wilson.

I am very grateful to Theatre Bubble for inviting me to review this play.

Debra Baker, Big Guns at The Yard Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet (8)

Big Guns at the Yard Theatre Written by Nina Segal Directed by Dan Hutton Produced in association with Martha Rose Wilson Set/Costume Design by Rosie Elnile Lighting by Katharine Williams Sound by Kieran Lucas Cast Debra Baker Jessye Romeo

Jessye Romeo, Big Guns at The Yard Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet (6)

Big Guns at the Yard Theatre Written by Nina Segal Directed by Dan Hutton Produced in association with Martha Rose Wilson Set/Costume Design by Rosie Elnile Lighting by Katharine Williams Sound by Kieran Lucas Cast Debra Baker Jessye Romeo

 

 

Slap and Tickle

 

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“Hello everybody. Are you sitting comfortably?” asks Liz Aggiss, recurrently throughout her solo contemporary dance performance Slap and Tickle. The assumption being that you ought to be, given you’re about to be blown away!

Slap and Tickle is a courageously daring representation of women’s lives and their bodies. It is sidesplittingly funny, entertainingly choreographed and spectacularly devoid of ordinariness or political correctness. There is a refreshing irreverence to Liz Aggiss’s performance that is rarely exhibited by female performers. As such, she resists all conventional gender stereotypes ascribed to what defines femininity, how it should be talked about, and how it should be performed.

The hour long performance is separated into three acts and act one begins on a darkened, misty stage that is accompanied by a moving operatic soundtrack. A spotlighted Liz Aggiss appears, cloaked in gold with a mushroom shaped head holding a puppet. She lifts her dress to reveal a glittering slipper that is clearly a few sizes too large, yet proclaims that “the shoe fits!”

She speaks into the microphone sometimes, at others away from it. The Cinderella and nursery rhyme references suggest this first act is both about birth and the early, formative years. So, it’s about a time of innocence and fuzzy cotton wool-wrapped worlds.

Aggiss uses her body, the music track, a small front section of the stage and a puppet, which on the surface may seem limiting, but these are the tools which allow her the means to confront and challenge audience expectations by doing something quite exceptional.

Using Doris Day’s popular 1950’s song “Que Sera, Sera”, Aggiss replaces the well-known lyrics “Will I be pretty, will I be rich?”, with “Will I be I be horny, always on heat, a bitch, beaten, shoved in a ditch, a victim and used?” The audience are at once placed in a challenged position of knowing that these questions are possibilities, and do actually happen to a percentage of young girl’s lives, but we are also unsure of how to process this information and what to do with it. Especially given that it is placed in a song so often associated with childhood purity and innocence, but also that these taboo realities of what might be, are very rarely discussed or talked about openly. This surprising position, ultimately leaves the audience in anticipation and very interested in what is to come from here on in.

Act two is very much about the female body and Aggiss embodies the vulgar and grotesque without restraint. She uses her body, dance movements, a puppet and some cotton wool, along with her engaging style to demonstrate the various stages and secretions of women’s bodies. In this hilariously un-politically correct segment, Aggiss dances her way through, having babies, collapsed pelvic floors and weeing herself “all the way home”.

There are woops of laughter at the hirsute wig used to represent pubic hair, audible gasps at the mention of cancerous holes, and uncomfortable uncertainty at the mockery of sexualising lactating breasts.

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Aggiss returns to the stage in act three wearing a short red cloak and producing penis bunting from her pants. This last act sees her liberated, uninhibited and performing to Ian Dury and The Blockhead’s song “Reasons to be Cheerful” with sharply adapted lyrics. After some layers are removed, Aggiss ends bare-bottomed while at the same time farting and apologising for being “a little loose this way”.

Slap and Tickle is a hilariously funny, powerfully performed and highly entertaining depiction of women’s bodies. Liz Aggiss does this in a confronting, witty and unashamed way that does not seek permission, approval or categorisation. For these reasons, it is a show well worth seeing and talking about.

Slap and Tickle can be seen at The Place London on 17th and 18th July. Running time is about 60 minutes. Tickets can be book at http://www.theplace.org.uk/ or by phoning the Box Office on 020 7121 1100.

CAST AND CREW

Conceived, written, choreographed and performed: Liz Aggiss.

Music cover versions: Alan Boorman/Wevie.

Voice Over: Emma Kilbey.

Lighting Design: Chris Umney.

Sound FX, Music Timeline Technical Support: Joe Murray.

Research and Production: Arts Council England, South East Dance, Dance4 and the University of Bath.

Many thanks to Theatre Bubble who invited me to review this performance.SLAPTICKLE_COCKBUNTING

The Deep Blue Sea

The Deep Blue Sea is written by Terence Rattigan and first appeared at London’s Duchess Theatre on 6 March 1952. Last night it opened at the National Theatre and tells the story of Hester, a woman living in 1950s London who has an affair. It is a story about love and lust, heartbreak and infidelity, class and duty. But also, and perhaps more poignantly, this is a story about emotions. And taboo ones at that, given the script’s unapologetically, head on confrontation of rock-bottom depression and suicide. The play itself is not depressing though, as timely humour intersperses during the course of the play, so while audiences are invited to feel the depth of Hester’s pain, they are also presented with many opportunities of amusement and a good laugh throughout.

Helen McCrory plays Hester Collyer, an upper-class woman who leaves her husband (a judge) for a much younger ex-RAF fighter pilot, played by Tom Burke, with whom she has fallen passionately in love. Her sexual needs, which were not met in her marriage and are only fully aroused by her affair, remain the solitary thread between her and her lover. But this, along with her lover’s unemployment, commitment-phobia and gradual but steep demise into alcoholism proves unsustainable for a meaningful, long-lasting relationship. Following on from this realisation, and her castigation from society, Hester is driven to an unsuccessful suicide attempt, which is how the play opens.

We watch as Hester is brought back into her bleak reality, abandoned by her lover, invited to return to her former social class by her husband who is still in love with her, and her discovery of a newfound sense of self-worth after having accepted and seen through her lover’s decision to leave her. All this is done behind a wall of well-bred self-discipline, though there are moments when Hester so desperately loses it. Particularly when she is on the phone to her lover Freddie, begging him to return for his belongings, and repeatedly promising not to dissuade him from his decision to leave her. I feel it is during these moments of heightened desperation and complete lack of self-control, that the audience feels for Hester most.

The play also offers an insightful flash-back to a time when England was different to now. A time when English common law, considered attempted suicide a criminal offence. This did not change until the introduction of The Suicide Act of 1961 which decriminalised attempted suicide. So Hester’s failed attempt at killing herself, which was performed at a time when it was deemed illegal to do so, was kept secret not only for keeping up appearances and avoiding the embarrassment that would follow a court-hearing, but also because she had committed a criminal offence.

Furthermore, it was historically a context when being gay was also a criminal offence. A time where consenting homosexual acts, even if they were to take place in a private setting, resulted in prison sentences. It was not until 1967, when the Sexual Offences Act was passed, that private homosexual acts between men aged over 21 were decriminalised.

This is important because playwright Terence Rattigan was gay, according to Michael Darlow, author of Terence Rattigan – The Man and his Work (1979). Darlow further explains that The Deep Blue Sea draws upon, and is inspired by, some of the most deeply hidden and painful events in Rattigan’s own life. The play was written over 3 years, and however the play may have been inspired by Rattigan’s own life, it remains, nevertheless, a story about a woman and her entrapment, her emotions, and her strength to choose life. It really was a thoroughly emotional performance, which was skilfully written and so exquisitely brought to life.

The Deep Blue Sea will be continuing its run at The National Theatre‘s Lyttelton Theatre until 21st September. Running time is about 2 hours 45 minutes including a 20 minute interval.Tickets can be booked on 0207452 3000 or http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

I was invited to review this play by Theatre Bubble and Theatre Bloggers

CAST AND CREW

Director: Carrie Cracknell

Production Manager: David Stothard

Sound Designer: Peter Rice

Lighting Designer: Guy Hoare

Cast: Marion Bailey, Hubert Burton, Yolanda Kettle, Helen McCrory, Nick Fletcher, Peter Sullivan, Tom Burke, Adetomiwa Edun.

Stig of the Dump

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Stig of the Dump is an enchanting play, adapted from Clive King’s classic children’s book first published in 1963. Set in the chalk Kent Downs of England’s South, it is the story of an eight-year-old boy called Barney, who goes to stay with his Grandparents during the holidays and the adventures he gets up to when he’s there.

One day he wonders off by himself and falls off the edge of a disused chalk pit. There he meets Stig, a caveman – played by a puppet – who wears rabbit skins and speaks in grunts. They learn to communicate and soon become friends. They go on a series of adventures together, learn about each other’s worlds and do practical things like make windows out of old jam jars.

Stig of the Dump ticks all the boxes where children’s entertainment is concerned, in that it is highly dynamic, very entertaining, includes puppetry and live music, and frequently calls for audience participation throughout. Given that its target audience is 4 years and over, the play is separated into two 30 minute halves by a 15 minute interval, which in a way, pre-empts any shorter concentration spans from reaching their limit. As such, it is a wonderful way to introduce children who have not seen a stage production before to the theatre, but it is also a brilliant show for children who are regular theatre-goers.

As with all productions aimed at children, accompanying adults also hope that at least some of the entertainment value will extend to them too. And while appealing to both audiences at the same time cannot be an easy task to achieve, Stig of the Dump manages to do this without a glitch – the laughter and smiles from children and adults in the auditorium certainly attest to this.

Many adults will have read the book growing up, so for them it is a lovely way of both revisiting the story in their minds, but also introducing the children they’re accompanying to this charming story that has withstood the test of time. The adaptation is true to the book and its characters, which is remarkable given the restrictive time frame.

It is a story about what every child dreams of doing, but is not necessarily allowed to do. It is about exploring places that have been unexplored. Outdoor, countryside spaces that are expansive and new. Taking risks and making new friends – not necessarily ones that adults would prefer you to be friendly with. Making mistakes without having adults preventing you from making them, or coming in to fix them once you have done so. It is very much a pre-health and safety hark back, to an idyllic golden age where imagination and reality are mis-mashed in the most endearing way.

There are other, more subtle, underlying messages in the story concerning difference, otherness and class. These may have been missed by adults when reading the story in their younger years, but may be more obviously recognisable now given their added advantage of experience and time.

As part of their UK tour, Stig of the Dump is raising money for Cancer research and audience members had the chance to donate and meet the cast after the show. Donations can also be made online at http://www.stigofthedump.co.uk/.

Stig of the Dump will be completing its run at Leicester Square Theatre on 5th June 2016 at 12:30pm and 3:30pm. You can book your tickets from 020 7734 2222 or http://leicestersquaretheatre.com/

 

Keep a close look out for their next tour!

CAST AND CREW

Director: Luke Sheppa

Adapted by: Mike Kenny.

Lighting Designer: Chris Withers.

Designer: Gabriella Slade.

Producers: Phil Ryder and Jonathan Ashby-Rock for London Contemporary Theatre.

Cast: William Pennington, Chandni Mistry, Hannah Cooper-Dean, Sam Gannon.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to review this play by Theatre Bubble.

Stella

 

Last night was a night of firsts. It was Stella’s first appearance in London at the LIFT festival, and my first time in one of London’s few remaining music halls. Stella was incredibly moving, and Hoxton Hall was quaint and charming. The lobby was vibrant with theatre-goers, chatter and impromptu twitter tutorials. While Stella’s writer and director Neil Bartlett, was kind enough to spend some time talking to me between posing for cameras and welcoming guests.

 

Neil Bartlett told me he hoped that audiences would see themselves reflected in his play Stella.

“It’s a very personal story. It’s a story about being young, but also about being old. It’s a story about being very brave and also about being very afraid. And I think all of us have been both of those things.”

 

And while it is true that Stella offers a reflection of youth, ageing, fear and bravery to its audiences, what makes Stella particularly unique is its brashness in giving transgender or non-gender-conformist audiences a chance to also see themselves reflected on the stage. This is particularly significant given that trans visibility, in the mainstream at least, is very uncommon, shied away from or hidden altogether.

 

But Stella also raises awareness of the bravery and courage trans people and LGBTQ communities encounter daily, not only now, but also historically. Violence, threats and confrontations that are experienced and endured from passers-by, and judicial systems that are not designed to recognise genders beyond the masculine and feminine binary systems, are all key themes in this play.

 

Gender then, is very much at the forefront. As is challenging gender stereotypes and conventions. In an interview earlier today, cultural historian and academic, Andy Medhurst, pointed out that “popular culture has frequently been a zone where the everyday straitjackets of gender identity can be shaken up, destabilised and subjected to both scrutiny and mockery.”

 

This was certainly the case for Stella – the person – who, as a performer found solace on the stage and within the popular cultural environment of the music hall. But also true of Stella – the play – where traditional gender identity is shown to be challenged and audiences are encouraged to analyse the credibility and authority of conventional gender norms.

 

Bringing Stella’s story to life in Hoxton Hall then, seems especially fitting. And it is done so convincingly by Richard Cant who plays Stella in her older years, and Oscar Batterham as the younger Stella. Side-by-side on stage, along with attendant David Carr, they retell, relive and recount the riotous and unrestrained life of Stella, a Victorian cross-dresser and performer. The audience gets a sense of how high she must have been during the good times and how low she must have reached during the darker times.  Stella is poignant and compelling, heart-breaking and touching. She is an awe-inspiring and immediately likeable character, who was so, very brave.

 

It is brilliantly written and incredibly confronting. In one particular scene, older Stella repeats ‘You think you can’t end, but you do. You think you can’t end, but you do. You think you can’t end, but you do!’ Is she talking about her youthful looks, imminent death, the ability to love, or all of the above?

 

The lady sitting next to me was fortunate enough to be seeing Stella for the second time around. I was, and am, quite envious of this lady because Stella has the same effect on you as reading a really good book or watching a really good film. That feeling of knowing you have to come back to it, almost as soon as, or sometimes even before, reaching the end. Revisiting like this satisfies the nagging sensation of just making sure you’ve not missed anything from the first time, and affords the added privilege of looking for hidden details because the suspenseful outcome of the story has already been unveiled.  I still have this nagging feeling where Stella is concerned, and so I know I need to see it again.

 

Stella will be continuing its run at Hoxton Hall until 18th June at 14:30 and 19:30 every day except Sundays. You can book your tickets from 020 7684 0060 or https://www.hoxtonhall.co.uk, tickets £14 – £18.

 

CAST AND CREW

 

Writer and Director: Neil Bartlett.

 

Producer: Polly Thomas.

 

Lighting: Rick Fisher, Martin McLachlan.

 

Sound: Christopher Shutt, Dinah Mullen.

 

Cast: Richard Cant, Oscar Batterham, David Carr.

I was fortunate enough to be asked by Theatre Bubble to review this play, which is part of the LIFT festival.

Radiant Vermin

A friend and I went to see Radiant Vermin at London’s Soho Theatre on Saturday. Today is Monday and I’m still thinking about it, talking about and laughing out loud whenever I recall certain scenes.

We risked sitting in the front row, at stage level. Risky because if the play was to disappoint in any way, then hiding this displeasure might have proven rather difficult. But Radiant Vermin far from disappointed, unless of course props are what you look for in a good play. The lack of props were compensated by the sharply written script, superbly executed performances, and its highly engaging and relevant subject matter.

Time Out describes it as “the extreme lengths one couple go to to escape the housing crisis”, but it is about so much more than this. Radiant Vermin unapologetically addresses everyday life in such a way that audiences can see their lives, and those of other people they know, reflected back to them. It considers such themes as class, consumption, homlessness, greed, morality, catalogue shopping, parental competitiveness, and family life as a means of legitimising “never enough” consumption. These are presented with pacey humour and a skillful satire that not only allows the audience to relate, but leaves them wanting more.

One such scene is the party scene, made remarkable not just for its writing and acting creativity, but also because of its faultless representation of competing parents. Competitiveness here manifests itself through giving presents to a one-year-old baby, and whose present takes top prize for most ostentatiously expensive and least practical.

It is hilarious, sad, thought-provoking and so relevant to now.

Our decision to sit in the front row was a brilliant one. It allowed for a real closeness to the story and the characters. A closeness that doesn’t come cheap at larger segregation-through-seat-allocation theatres.

Radiant Vermin is only on for one more week in London before going to New York as part of the Brits off Broadway Festival!
@sohotheatre @sohotheatre @Nektaria M @radiantvermin @WhatsOnStage @59E59Theatres Radiant Vermin

This review also features in Time Out London.