Sunday, July 24, 2016

Cattle class: Cargo @ArcolaTheatre

Cargo at the Arcola Theatre is a thrilling and evocative account of the plight of refugees with a twist. A delicate blend of fact and fiction, the piece by Tess Berry-Hart conjures up a dystopian world that just might be around the corner for us... And this makes it a powerful statement on how both our values as a society and how we view refugees.

The box office kindly suggests that as it is ninety minutes straight through, you might want to have a drink with you beforehand. Most people in the audience seemed to go for beer. But we have been having a heatwave in London. So I went for water and guzzled half of it before even getting to the downstairs theatre.

Walking into the studio space transformed into a giant shipping container. Max Dorey's inspired design makes you feel as if you are the cargo. And as the show begins an usher slams the door shut and you're plunged into darkness.

This is the second outing to the theatre where the production puts you in a confined dark space and then switches off the lights. Theatre at the fringe in London this summer is testing audiences for their levels of claustrophobia. The only thing that might make it more authentic would be to shut off the air conditioning. Although I was grateful for that not happening...

Sunday, July 17, 2016

I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road @JsTheatre

Time heals everything they say. It has been over thirty years since London has seen I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road. And watching it at the Jermyn Street Theatre is like a trip back in time. When you arrive there is a band getting ready for the show, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a cabaret spot from the 1970s. Complete with pantsuits, glitter makeup and records on the wall. It is a terrific looking production that makes you feel like walking down the steps to the theatre you have been in a time machine. 

But with its handful of songs and themes about the role of women, it almost feels as it time has stood still. The dialogue may be firmly rooted in the 1970s (and often a bit predictable), but the themes of female empowerment and being independent seem as if we haven't come so far since..

The show is about Heather Jones (Landi Oshinowo), a star who had a hit with an treacly love song, trying to impress her manager with her new material ahead of opening night for her new act. The rehearsal becomes the basis for the musical exploring her age, her break-ups and the expectations on women. Her manager Joe (Nic Colicos), who she had a past relationship with, doesn't like everything he hears.

This musical has been largely forgotten except perhaps for its song "Old Friend", which Michael Feinstein continues to champion with his near forensic-like analysis of its depth and meaning. But the rest of the songs written by Nancy Ford are just as good as they explore Heather's past and future. 

Curiously it is when the band isn't playing and the cast isn't singing that the show feels a little flat. Written by Gretchen Cryer based on her own life experiences  it seems to unbelievable. The banter between Heather and Joe is often repetitive and tedious. There isn't much here for Colicos to do other than say things to make the audience wince (just the same way it probably did in 1979).

But the cast and the music keep this show on track. Oshinowo gives a nuanced performance as a performer wanting to break out. Along with backing singers Rosanna Hyland and Kristen Gaetz, when they sing it really is (as one of the songs say) a natural high and make this show a memorable experience.

Band and cast members Alice Offley, David Gibbons, Nick Barstow and Rich Craig round out the group.

Directed by Matthew Gould, I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It On The Road runs through to 23 July at Jermyn Street Theatre.



Saturday, July 16, 2016

Ramin Karimloo: the unstoppable beast

Iranian-Canadian musical theater actor Ramin Karimloo is known for his work in the West End, performing in The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, as well as debuting the role of the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera sequel, Love Never Dies.

Recently he finished a run playing Valjean in Les Miserables on Broadway and gained attention for not just his vocals but his physical strength. He is back in London and getting ready for a show (tonight) at the Palladium on 16 July. Later in the year he will be joining Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Kerry Ellis in UK premiere of the off-Broadway musical Murder Ballad at the Arts Theatre.

The Palladium show will be another opportunity to see Ramin and his band mix country and bluegrass with musical theatre (and vice-versa), after sellout shows at Islington’s Union Chapel in January.

I sat down with Ramin shortly after his return to London. We talked about the shows, his fitness regime and how he is looking for a good gym to hit while in London.

Ramin has boundless energy and it shows in his performances, his workout clips and when he interviews.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Running with scissors: Cut #Cuttheplay

A sensory and unnerving experience awaits anyone heading off to see Cut at The Vaults in Waterloo. A one woman show performed by Hannah Norris. She is your guide, predator and prey in this story about paranoia, obsession and an awful lot of cling film.

Part of the experience of the piece is to throw the audience into complete darkness. With a pulsing soundtrack it makes things feel pretty intense. 

The intensity at first is all in your mind. But then Norris throws herself about the traverse stage. She is one place. Then another. And then another. Smiling and grinning. There is a menacing demeanour about her, especially when she tells audience members to take off their glowing watches.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Last chance for something completely different: Karagula @wearepigdog

In it’s final week in a disused bar in Tottenham is Philip Ridley’s Karagula.

It’s an amibitious dystopian work that has been baffling audiences for the past month. There are various worlds coliding in the piece. Time and narrative shifts to tell a story of rebellion against totalitarian regimes.

Ladies day: Screwed @Theatre503

Funny, vulgar and just a bit scary. Screwed at Theatre 503 really hits you with everything it can in this new work by Kathryn O'Reilly.

It's another day at the factory. Charlene and Luce had just had a great night out and were still buzzing (or intoxicated) from the night before.

They assemble bathroom fittings putting the female part onto the male part. But the job is just an excuse to talk about what male parts they put into their female parts. All the time they're popping pills or knocking back vodka miniatures.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Previewing grey matter: Grey Man @Theatre503

Part theatrical experiment, part exploration on perspectives, the Grey Man at Theatre 503 promises to be an interesting night out. Two women, one half the age of the other, take a different perspective to the same event.

The piece explores how different perspectives reshape the world around us, and how the power of story telling.

Maya is a 50 year old woman revisiting the site of a terrible family tragedy. Meanwhile Maya is 25 year old woman returning to her family to help her sister who is recovering from a mental illness. 

One is dark. One is light. And if you missed a line first time around, you are bound to catch it on the second.

This is the second production from REND which aims to embark on risk-taking theatre experiences.

The piece is written by Lulu Raczka, who was part of the Royal Court Writers Programme in 2014. Her recent work, Clytemnestra, was part of The Iphigenia Quartet at Theatre503’s sister theatre, the Gate. 

The piece is directed by Robyn Winfield-Smith, who is is Artistic Director of REND Productions. 

It is on this week only at Theatre503 in Battersea.

Photo credit: Nick Rutter

Monday, June 13, 2016

Passing strangers: Off The Kings Road @JSTheatre

Off The Kings Road. People come, people go. Nothing happens. Or perhaps not much happens. This isn't Grand Hotel in terms of melodrama or scale. Instead, there are two people in their autumn years trying to get over the past and move on. Oh and there is a hooker, a camp hotel clerk and a dodgy psychiatrist to Skype with.

It is an interesting concept. But you get the feeling this small-scale production feels a bit crowded with all these characters. Perhaps played as a two-hander it might have given us the chance to get to know the two main characters more.

Michael Brandon plays Matt. He has come to London from California for a holiday after the death of his wife. He has brought his Valium, mouthwash and a sex doll. He is a man trying to get over her passing. He has plans to do all the things they would have wanted to do. Go to the park, go to a gallery. Live life.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The brown word: The Spoils @TrafStudios

Bromance is in the air in with The Spoils, Jesse Eisenberg’s funny new play now at Trafalgar Studios. Women and relationships feature throughout the piece. But the real relationship at the heart of this piece is between obnoxious New Yorker Ben, and his flatmate Kalyan, a hard-working immigrant student from Nepal.

Eisenberg is making his West End debut as a writer and star of his show which has transferred from New York. As Ben, he is a tightly wound guy full of tics and mannerisms as he rages against everyone and everything. He does not really have a job and lives in a flat his father bought him. It’s a mostly unappealing character but Eisenberg gives him enough of the best lines and occasional vulnerabilities to make you feel a bit sympathetic towards him.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Mister cellophane: Christie in Love @KingsHeadThtr

There is always someone that has to takes something too far... Usually it is a joke. Here in Christie In Love, the central message seems to be that Christie's penchant for weird sex practices was a step too far. His punishment was execution. This seemed fitting for a man who indulged in that... And mass murder.

Rough Haired Pointer attempt to understand the motivation of a seemingly dull serial killer John Christie in this production now playing at the Kings Head Theatre.

You get the sense that there is a lot more that this piece could have told. Written in 1969, back then there was probably a greater awareness of the details of the case. This production doesn’t let you in on that.

The play runs about an hour and calls for the action to be played very slowly. This emphasises the tedium and ordinariness of the man committing the horrors and those uncovering it. But it isn’t always easy to watch and may not to be everyone’s taste.

Still for those who are game, there is much to admire. The cartoon police constable (played by Daniel Buckley), is digging the garden looking for evidence and reciting dirty limericks all the time. The pragmatic Inspector (Jake Curran) keeps an emotional distance from the horror.