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Laugh yer bastards: The Grinning Man @TrafStudios

The Grinning Man bursts on stage at the Trafalgar Studios. And even if you’re not sure if it’s meant to be a comedy or an emotional love story, it’s determined to show you a good time.Although the good time is a little on the dark side. As one character comments in this show, “prepare to shit kittens.” If you like that sort of thing then it’s a welcome break from the relentless cheery musical fare around Christmas. The show, based on a story by Victor Hugo throws in puppetry and style. You enter the theatre as if you’re going to see a fairground freak show. Designer Jon Bausor has framed the stage with a giant disfigured mouth. It’s grim, but its the perfect setting for a story about a boy who’s mutilated, saves a baby, makes a living as a freak and then wins over a kingdom. Louis Maskell as the heroic Grinpayne the disfigured boy conveys emotion and excitement of the character. He’s on stage most of the time and is either controlling his younger puppet self or jumping about as the gro…

Digging in: Checkpoint Chana @Finborough

What do you do when you're a successful poet accused of semitism? How do you avoid the social media storm and the calls for an apology? These are the thoughts that come in Checkpoint Chana by Jeff Page. It's having its premiere at the Finborough Theatre following a reading at Finborough's Vibrant 2017 festival.It starts with Bev (Geraldine Somerville) complaining to her assistant Tasmin (Ulrika Krishnamurti). She has to write an apology  after one of her poems sets off a social media firestorm. It’s been labelled anti-Semitic after every other recent poem of hers has been ignored.The indignity of a respected poet needing to do this is compounded by problems in her personal life and pressure from her university. But she eventually relents to making an apology, and having a sympathetic interview scheduled. She’ll even do a talk at a North London arts centre.  Somerville is convincing as a person caught up in the drama that’s part of their own creation. But often the work seem…

50 ways to leave: Ok Bye @VAULTFestival #okbye

The phrase ok bye is so versatile. It can be used for a variety of endings. Some trivial some consequential. It could be full of meaning or absolutely meaningless. And this is the premise of RedBellyBlack’s intriguing show Ok Bye that concludes this weekend at The Vault festival.
Based on an idea by co-creators Kate Goodfellow and Vicki Baron, they explore what it means to say goodbye in two parts. Through movement, comedy and lip-syncing dialogue they juxtapose the ways and means of saying goodbye.
The first part is three estranged siblings reconnecting during the decline and death of a parent. Through movement and music they explore the transition from being a carefree child to a responsible adult.

The second part is a collection of in verbatim stories about good byes to a range of things such as pets, freedom or crackpot religions. The performers mouth to perfection the most bizarre stories about saying goodbye. losing weight or leaving a fundamentalist Christian group are particul…

Common divisions: Returning to Haifa @Finborough

The stage adaption of Ghassan Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa by Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace is fiery and emotional. It’s having its world premiere at the Finborough Theatre.The piece puts you in the living room of a family who had to flee the city of Haifa in 1948, and the family that subsequently occupied it. The injustice of finding your own home and your belongings legally occupied by someone else is only part of the anger in this piece. It also extends to the staging of it. The programme notes that it was due to have it’s world premiere by the New York Public Theatre. But political pressure from their board led to the proejct being abandoned. But New York’s loss is London’s gain. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the events you begin to understand it. It humanises enemies and explains motives. And the sensitive portrayals by the ensemble add to emotional impact. The piece crosses three separate time periods. It opens before the dispossession in 1947. Then the period of the expulsi…

Only an older woman: Harold and Maude @Charingcrossthr

There’s something irresistibly cute and whimsical about this adaptation of Harold and Maude. It’s not as dark or shocking as the film. But the performances and production of this tale of living life and enjoying every stage of it make it a delight. It’s currently showing at the Charing Cross Theatre.Colin Higgins wrote the script to Harold and Maude as his third year film school thesis. Directed by Hal Ashby and starring Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort it bombed on release. Only later did it develop into a cult following. Higgins, who would go on to write and direct the movies Foul Play and 9 to 5,  would later adapt it into the play we have here. The story centres on Harold. He’s a young man stuck in the straight-jacket of middle-class early seventies suburbia. He stages suicide attempts to shock his mother. He goes to funerals of strangers and has generally withdrawn from life.
While at one of these funerals he meets Maude. She’s constantly borrowing things; cars, trees, money from the poor…

Smokes and parasites: A Princess Undone @ParkTheatre

It’s a hot and stormy August evening, and Princess Margaret is on a mission in A Princess Undone. The trouble is, with so much reverence for the subject - and not much of a mission - it’s hard to see the drama (or comedy) in this piece by Richard Stirling. It’s currently playing at Park Theatre.It’s August 1993. Most of the Royals are at Balmoral. Princess Margaret is at Kensington Palace with the Queen Mother’s steward William Tallon (also played by Stirling). After clearing out correspondence from the Queen Mother’s rooms in Clarence House they’re getting ready to burn it. The trouble is Princess Michael of Kent is watching them. And they aren’t too sure if Diana has slipped out for a night of playing catch with the paparazzi. And some boy is claiming to have information on her liaisons with underworld figure John Bindon. The premise sounds like it could be a farce exploring the world of the royals and the sycophants that surround them. But too often the punches are pulled and we’re …

DIY whodunit: Murder, She Didn’t Write @lsqtheatre @degreesoferror

Improvised comedy can be hit or miss, but Degrees of Error might be onto something with this do-it-yourself whodunnit. It’s currently at the Leicester Square Theatre on the last Sundays in February, March and April. It could be described as what Agatha Christie might have written if she hit the sherry a bit too much. Audience suggestions set the scene for the murder and the murder weapon. One person in the audience gets to choose both the murderer and the victim by picking their name from a deck of cards. The Leicester Square Theatre with its range of bars inside the theatre sets the scene to loosen up the audience with ideas. It seems to work. Much is up for grabs, in this unscripted murder mystery. Not only is the victim unknown until part way through the show to the cast, but so is the murderer. The end result of this in February was it was at a hen night when the future Bride was murdered by her friend. The murder weapon was a wet tea towel. It’s fascinating and hilarious to watch …

Mad as hell and serving Cava: Derailed @Ovalhouse

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry. But when life gives you lemons make lemonade. Or in the case of Derailed at Oval House, make gazpacho. And serve Cava. The premise is that in the post-Brexit UK, they are heading back to Spain. But rather than leave downtrodden and defeated, they’re going to stage the mother of all leaving parties. The music blares, the party poppers fly and the party begins.The piece opens with a series of photos from Patricia and Mercè‘s 12 years living in the UK. With the grey skies and dismal towns you start thinking Brexit wasn’t the only reason for their decision to leave.And with a series of improvised scenarios you’ll find yourself live tweeting a petition, having a long hug with a complete stranger. Or wearing an unconvincing wig holding a banner protesting something. Along they way they chart some of their life in London and in Spain.  The premise of Patricia Rodríguez and Mercè Ribot‘s work is to use physical theatre and improvision to create something …