Monday 30 January 2017

Theatre review: Experience

Dave Florez' short play Experience is about a subject I may or may not have heard of before - at one point in the play a Daily Mail story objects to it and the headline sounds familiar, but then the Daily Mail objects to pretty much everything except fascism so I could just be confusing it with something else. Sexual Surrogacy is a therapy technique originally designed to help individuals and couples with sexual problems, but it's been suggested as a way of helping rehabilitate criminals as well. Helen (Kirsty Besterman) is a therapist trying to get Dan (Christian Cooke,) who's been in a criminal psychiatric facility since he was 16, to talk to her, but he's institutionalised and unable to deal with other humans. She enlists her top sexual surrogate Amy (Charlotte Lucas) to start with something as basic as a handshake and move on to sex until he's ready to face the outside world.

Thursday 26 January 2017

Theatre review: Dublin Oldschool

Inspired by a real-life encounter that sounds full of more coincidences that anything in the play itself, Emmet Kirwan writes and performs Dublin Oldschool, the story of a drug-fuelled Bank Holiday weekend during a heatwave. Kirwan plays Jason, a record shop employee in his late twenties who holds onto the hope of becoming a DJ, and is prone to letting people take advantage of him on the promise of helping with this career change. This particular weekend he's been told he can do a set if he takes care of a visiting superstar DJ's "entertainment" needs, but that's just one of a series of incidents as he keeps trying different drugs to keep him from actually having to go home. Over the three days he keeps bumping into a homeless heroin addict: His older brother Daniel, who's returned to Dublin after several years missing.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Theatre review: The Convert

A couple of past successes will be coming back for Christopher Haydon's final season of programming at the Gate, and after the success of Eclipsed* he brings back writer Danai Gurira for an unusually long and epic play by the venue's usual standards: The Convert is set in late Victorian Rhodesia, where both Catholic and Protestant churches have made slight inroads in converting the locals. Taken from his family as a child, Chilford (Stefan Adegbola) is a devout Catholic, helping the local priest and frustrated by the fact that an old rival has been accepted to the priesthood, as he himself had hoped to be the first black African priest. He's never managed to get anyone quite as enthusiastic about the white men's religion as he is - his housekeeper Mai Tamba (Clare Perkins) goes through the motions but also performs good luck magic when he's not looking. But her niece Jekesai (Mimi Ndiweni) is a different story.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Theatre review: Raising Martha

Animal rights as a metaphor for human rights in Raising Martha, David Spicer's black comedy that throws a lot into the mix and gets varied results. Gerry (Stephen Boxer) runs a farm that breeds frogs for vivisection; as a result it's a target for animal rights protesters, and following violent attacks Gerry's all but barricaded himself in. The latest attack is a personal one: Marc (Tom Bennett) and Jago (Joel Fry) have dug up the bones of his dead mother, and are holding them hostage, to be returned if the farm is sold to an animal charity. Gerry's brother Roger (Julian Bleach) has returned to help with the crisis, but all the brothers do is argue about whether or not to sell. Meanwhile the increased police presence at the farm isn't entirely welcome, as Gerry has diversified into growing marijuana laced with hallucinogenic toad.

Saturday 21 January 2017

Theatre review: Winter Solstice

As has become increasingly apparent over the last few years, the rest of the world doesn't seem to think Gemany might have any insights on fascism worth listening to. But the Germans, bless them, keep trying, with the latest warning coming from Roland Schimmelpfennig, whose Winter Solstice comes to the Orange Tree in a translation by David Tushingham. An upper middle class couple in a household we're told has never voted for a conservative party, Bettina (Laura Rogers) is a director of arthouse films nobody particularly wants to watch, while her husband Albert (Dominic Rowan) is a popular historian who's written a number of hit books. Both are having affairs, Bettina with Albert's best friend Konrad (Milo Twomey,) and the family tensions are particularly fraught as they wait for Bettina's mother to arrive.

Friday 20 January 2017

Theatre review: Us/Them

A short season of visiting shows in rep at the Dorfman starts with Us/Them from BRONKS, a Belgian company that specialises in theatre for children and young people. So the subject it tackles - a terrorist attack in Beslan, Russia in 2004, in which over a thousand children and parents were held hostage in a school - might seem an unlikely one for that audience, but director Carly Wijs has taken as her text the children's own accounts of the event. Various survivors' stories have been boiled down to a boy (Roman Van Houtven) and girl (Gytha Parmentier) who set the scene of this town near the border with Chechnya - from what they've heard from adults, a dark place full of bogeymen. The siege began on the first day of term so their description of the buildings and singing at assembly blur abruptly into a school gym full of a gradually dropping number of hostages.

Thursday 19 January 2017

Theatre review: Wish List

For the second year the Royal Court partners with the Royal Exchange in Manchester to stage a Bruntwood Prize winner, and following last year's Yen there's another kitchen sink drama looking at an easily ignored class, whose every last lifeline the current government's all too gleefully eager to cut. Tamsin (Erin Doherty) and her brother Dean (Joseph Quinn) had fairly promising and ordinary lives ahead of them until their mother's death, which led Tamsin to neglect her education and Dean's mild OCD to turn into a completely debilitating condition: He's fixated with all food and drink being scalding hot and has a system of knocking on wood to get him through the day, but his most obsessive ritual is constantly washing and styling his hair. He can barely dress himself let alone work, so it's down to Tamsin to support them both (their father is never mentioned,) but with no qualifications all she can find is a zero-hours contract packing goods for NOT AMAZON DEFINITELY NOT AMAZON.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Theatre review: Promises, Promises

The description on the website threatens "a triumph of 1960s sexual work-place politics" but also promises Burt Bacharach songs, making Southwark Playhouse's latest musical revival something of a mixed prospect. Bacharach provides the music, Hal David the lyrics and Neil Simon the book for Promises, Promises, the musical adaptation of Billy Wilder film The Apartment. Chuck Baxter (Gabriel Vick) has a junior role in a huge New York insurance firm, but doesn't realise he also has a secret weapon in the form of his tiny apartment, only a couple of blocks away from the office. Numerous married executives are having affairs with young women working at the company, and they talk Chuck into letting them use his apartment for sex, in return for putting in a good word for him at work. He finally gets his promotion when the personnel director Sheldrake (Paul Robinson, not the one from Neighbours) finds out and joins the club.

Friday 13 January 2017

Theatre review: The Albatross 3rd & Main

I must admit that looking back at the blurb for The Albatross 3rd & Main I had no idea what made me decide to go see it; I strongly suspect I looked at how quiet the start of the year was and just added something to pad it out. US writer Simon David Eden directs and designs his own play about a dilapidated general store in the middle of nowhere*. Gene (Hamish Clark) is in debt following a divorce and a gambling problem, and has put the store in the name of his assistant, brain-damaged ex-boxer Lullaby (Andrew St Clair-James) to stop it from being repossessed. So he's tempted by an offer from hyped-up Spider (Charlie Allen,) who arrives with a dead golden eagle in a box. The bird collided with his car, and as it has great religious significance to various Native American tribes, Spider wants to use a contact of Gene's to sell the carcass on the black market.

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Theatre review: The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus

Whatever else I might have to say about it, there's something to admire about a play that's had to stick a note on the doors of the pub below, apologising for the noise. Still, there's also good reason to be apprehensive about any play by Tony Harrison, a poet whose Fram still gives its name to one of the less flattering of my annual awards. But a much shorter running time makes it worth risking when he's attempting something that anyone interested in Ancient Greek theatre will want to see: I've often heard of the satyr plays that would provide the comic relief after a day of full-on tragedy, but I don't know much about them - probably because to the best of my knowledge only one survives. The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus is Harrison's attempt to recreate one of the lost satyr plays.

Thursday 5 January 2017

Theatre review: Mary Stuart

My first theatre trip of 2017 should have been one of my last of 2016, but the performance I was due to see was one of several cancelled due to cast illness - presumably the gastroenteritis that's knocked out half the West End and got me last month as well. But everyone's back on their feet now for the latest of Robert Icke's classic reinventions at the Almeida, Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart. In the battle of wills between the last Tudor monarch and her great rival, Icke sees the women as two sides of the same coin - literally, as two actresses share both roles, with a coin spun at the beginning of the performance to decide who plays who. Tonight Lia Williams called heads and won, so the assembled cast bowed to her as Queen Elizabeth I, who's been ruling for eight years and has restored Protestantism to England - along with a stability the country hasn't known for a long time.