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Fitting in: The Canary and the Crow @Arcolatheatre

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What do you do when you're the only working-class black kid who has a scholarship to a prestigious grammar school? Written and performed by David Ward, The Canary and The Crow is a funny and lively story about what it's like growing up black in Britain. And how trying to fit in leads to all sorts of unexpected life lessons. It's currently playing at the Arcola Theatre.

It's a bit like joining a party coming to see it. There's a party atmosphere happening on stage thanks to the music by Prez 96 (Nigel Taylor). As the show gets going, he becomes Ward's neighbourhood friend. They're joined by musicians Rachel Barnes and Laurie Jamieson on cellos, keyboards and vocals to tell a story about identity and belonging in modern Britain. It may be called gig theatre here, but it's also a compelling and funny piece of storytelling.

It's kept in focus by Ward. He's constantly reminding the audience of being that young kid so excited about finding a place in…

Gay Gore: Sex/Crime @sohotheatre

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At a point early on in Sex / Crime, the lights go dark in a room covered in plastic with a rubber floor, and all you can hear are the screams. The mind is left to imagine just what pre-negotiated terror is unfolding. Until it becomes clear, nothing is happening, and we can all laugh. Part tease and part terror, the piece unfolds against a backdrop of gay fetishism and modern-day neuroses. It’s currently playing at the Soho Theatre upstairs.

Written and performed by Alexis Gregory, he’s visiting a man with a specialism, who goes by the name of A (Jonny Woo). He provides a service of reenacting the works of famous gay serial killers for the right fee. Just the thing for a man who is bored with his life and searching for the next extra special thrill.  With the promise of experiencing what it was like to be a victim of one of these killers. Or as close as far as health and safety regulations allow.

If gay serial killers and the people who fetishise them seems a queasy topic for a night…

The woke and the trolling: Scrounger @Finborough

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Athena Stevens takes her experiences with an airline that damaged her wheelchair and refused to pay for a replacement into a sharp and an incisive piece on how discrimination affects disabled people. The incident led to her confinement in her flat in Elephant and Castle for months while she tweeted about the experience and gained media attention. And was called a scrounger by the usual band of internet trolls. It’s currently playing at the Finborough Theatre.

It's an exciting piece of storytelling that puts you in her shoes. Stevens is a detailed storyteller, and she expertly covers the everyday ordeals that people with disabilities face. From the passive aggressive remarks uttered by flight attendants to friends who have trouble thinking that Elephant and Castle is a part of central London. It's all told with humour, warmth and a healthy amount of outrage.

While the case was eventually settled, she explains as far as her non-disclosure agreement allows, how people, including…

Trends in theatre 2019 (of sorts)...

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As the year draws to a close, many writers decide to write up the best or worst things at the theatre they have seen. Since I try to avoid things I know I won’t like, I'm covering what I've noticed are the all-pervasive trends in London theatre this year... Happy New Year...

Phones in theatres

No theatre space is complete without people wanting to text, secretly film or browse their smartphone. Even at the Royal Opera. As the orchestra started up you could hear the hissing of "turn your phone off" throughout the stalls. I put up with a man sitting next to me who had yet to master the art of silencing his phone by listening to his low battery warning for the first few minutes of the third act. After all, opera-goers can be a tough lot and I didn’t want trouble.

Perhaps we have it all wrong. Theatres could probably win new audiences by having a noisy, phone using section of the theatres. Just like there used to be smoking areas. Just as long as the noisy audiences can …

Death Becomes Her: La Traviata @RoyalOperaHouse

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The original hooker with a heart of gold (and lungs full of blood) is back at The Royal Opera House for the Christmas period and beyond. It’s a bright and stylish production that was first seen at the Royal Opera twenty five years ago. But La Traviata, or the “fallen woman”, is more than just froth, bubbles and champagne. It’s also about the frailty of life and how redemption can come in many guises. In this particular version conducted by Daniel Oren, it’s the somber more reflective moments that stand out. Whether you like that sort of thing or not. 
In case you were wondering if there’s a plot to all these emotions in La Traviata, it centres around Violetta, a courtesan who at one of her lavish parties dumps one lover for another. But her new suitor, a moderately wealthy man called Alfredo, turns out to be more than she expected and they both fall in love. Meanwhile Alfredo’s bourgeois father seeks to restore the family honour while Violetta grapples with moral choices while her he…

Limp Christmas: Pinocchio No Strings Attached @abovethestag

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No Christmas is complete nowadays without an adults-only pantomime. These shows don't have to worry about innuendo, they aim right for the crotch. So it’s no surprise that in Pinocchio No Strings Attached at Above The Stag, the young boy has a different growth to deal with when he tells a lie. But despite an amusing premise and a cast that seems eager to please, the piece is overlong and a bit limp.

Set in the fictional Italian port side town called, Placenta, Toymaker Gepetta and her lesbian niece are on the run from the law. Gepetta seeking a man in her life inadvertently calls on the local lesbian fairy Fatima who brings her toy... boy to life. Meanwhile, there’s a wealthy evil landlord, Figaro who wants a piece of the action, a cat with a severe fur ball problem and a footballer thinking of coming out of the closet.

For a pantomime, it’s surprisingly faithful to many elements of the Pinocchio story. Albeit with gay, lesbian and pantomime dame flavours. But with many possibili…

Tales from the monoculture: One Million Tiny Plays About Britain @JSTheatre

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There is a theatre-sports feel to One Million Tiny Plays About Britain, currently playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Two actors are thrown into the challenge of portraying characters of a range of ages and types across Britain with barely seconds to make costume or wig change. At best, there are some touching moments about chance encounters. But by the end, you feel there's a repetitiveness to the characters and their micro stories so that you feel like it's more like a million tiny plays about the same thing.

The most fun from this show, however, comes from its send-up of the Jermyn Street Theatre and audiences that you likely find here. Before the show begins, the actors are playing ushers telling the audience where to go, with a direct yet amusing twist. The theatre announcements, including when the toilets are about to be closed are delivered with elaborations. And before the second half gets underway, we're treated to a game of bingo.

Playing the various character…

The eighties are calling: The Ocean At The End of The Lane @NationalTheatre

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The Dorfman Theatre at the National is transformed into a thicket of imagination (and a few scares) in this brisk and evocative adaptation of Neil Gaiman's book of the same name by Joel Horwood. Even if you're unfamiliar with the book, this production directed by Katy Rudd, quickly establishes a strange and unusual world. And not just because it was set in 1983 when T-shirts were always pastel colours and hair had to have a perm. With a strong cast and endless theatrical tricks, you'll find yourself enthralled in its exploration around how people remember the past and the blurring of reality and fantasy that come with memories and time.

Opening with a funeral, a man returns to his hometown and stops by the place where he remembers a girl called Lettie who he knew as a young man. There he encounters her grandmother again and soon is transported back to the time when they knew each other as a boy, which just so happens to be the early 1980s.

The boy (Samuel Blenkin) meets L…