Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Debauchery, drugs and diseases: 5 Guys Chillin @KingsHeadThtr

Life in London is just one big endless gory drug-fuelled sex party in 5 Guys Chillin'. It's a relentless look at the London gay chem-sex and chill-out scene by Peter Darney at the King's Head Theatre. It's not for the faint-hearted or those who have lived a sheltered life.

The piece has been created from interviews and sourcing material found through social media and apps. Darnley's uses the premise of a "chill-out" to get the guys talking. It's very effective, particularly once you get over the gay gore and start listening to the stories.

Among the graphic details is a picture of an empty and lonely gay scene in London. It also helps explain why with record rates of infection among men who have sex with men there is the push to provide PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) free on the NHS.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Soul searching: From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads @waterlooeast @ibizabowie

If music is the soundtrack to our lives, From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads puts Bowie as the soundtrack for eccentrics, outcasts or just troubled teens.

Adrian Berry’s fascinating play covers a young Bowie fan's pilgrimage to London. He visits his music idol’s London haunts.

It’s part journey of discovering who he is, but also a desire to connect to his father with the music of his hero.

As Martin, Alex Walton contorts and moves about the stage as the lanky awkward teen and occasional other character on the journey. As the sole performer he captures the spirit of the young fan and the people he encounters. But he also engages you as a storyteller of this young man’s journey to London.

Along the way there are Bowie songs, therapy sessions about bulimia and a dream sequence where he speaks to Bowie. The conversation with the other-worldly Bowie is a pre-recorded voice supplied by Rob Newman. Projections of album covers, London locations also hit us along the way.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Make them hear you: Ragtime @CharingCrossThr

Ragtime at Charing Cross Theatre takes the late nineties musical and lifts it into another realm. With a compact cast on a compact stage, everything seems more intense. It is more musical, more melodramatic and more relevant than ever before.

The cast double as the musicians. One minute they are singing the next minute they’re on the drums or accordion. Pianos whizz about the stage. Music and drama explode in front of you. There is so much happening (particularly in the frenetic first half) that it is breathtaking.

The show opens with an extended prologue introducing the characters and the music of a new syncopation that sets the tone for the rest of the evening. After the rousing chorus that ends it the audience burst into cheers

Monday, October 17, 2016

Previewing the slags: Confessional @swkplay

Confessional is in until 29 October at Southwark Playhouse. It’s an immersive production of an overlooked Tennessee Williams play that transplants the action to Southend on the Essex Coast.

The experience is the thing here where the audience joins the cast in a pub (an authentic looking boozer recreated in The Little at Southwark Playhouse) and the action kicks off all around you.

The piece centres around Leona Dawson (Lizzie Stanton). She is getting her act together after discovering her layabout boyfriend (Gavin Brocker) has been cheating on her with her mentally ill best friend. And it just happens to be the anniversary of her younger brother’s death.

When a couple of gay men come into the bar - one who looks a bit like her dead brother -  things start to get to breaking point. Amid all the drinking and rough talk it all starts to get a bit messy. You know where things are heading. All hell threatens to break loose. And it eventually does.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hard times, hard drinking, hard men: The Boys In The Band @ParkTheatre

The glass may be half empty but it's always going to be full of liquor or bile in The Boys In the Band. The alcohol starts flowing and next follows the loathing. But something unexpected watching this piece. Even amongst the bleak depiction of pre-Stonewall New York you get the sense they're a family. And they will probably patch things up in the morning. Once they get over their broken noses and hangovers. It is now playing at the Park Theatre before heading on a tour.

Mart Crowley's play was the first to present gay life to a mainstream audience. It is important to appreciate that it was once unique. Nowadays there isn’t a week that goes by in London when there isn’t a play about gay men in London. Usually it involves the actors getting naked. But this takes you back to an earlier time.

It is before chemsex. Before AIDS. Before Stonewall. Just drinking, poppers, a bit of dope and a whole lot of self hatred.  But an excellent ensemble and a brisk pace makes it for a crackling fun evening.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Fancy footwork: Floyd Collins @WiltonMusicHall

A cave man searching for fame and fortune - and finds it after he gets trapped in one - is the basis of the musical Floyd Collins, currently playing at Wilton's Music Hall.

Based on the true story of Kentucky cave explorer Collins. After getting his foot trapped he becomes a media sensation when a cub reporter (who is thin and small enough to enter the cave) interviews him. His subsequent story becomes syndicated across America.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hairography: Vanities: The Musical

The secret of lasting friendships is really about having the correct fitting wig. Well, I think that's what it is after catching Vanities: The Musical. It's a musical valentine to soap opera dramatics and retro hair styles currently playing at Trafalgar Studios.

The show is given a heavy injection of talent with the performances by its three leading ladies. While this makes it very watchable, you are left wishing there was just something more in the material.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sweat shops: The Great Divide @Finborough

The Great Divide uses the worst industrial accident in history as the backdrop to explain the lives and times of some of the workers who lived and perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. 

It is playing on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at the Finborough Theatre until 20 September. 

What is exciting about Alix Sobler's piece is how fragments of stories comes together to tell a much bigger one about immigration, dreams and unionisation against the backdrop of the deadliest workplace disaster in American history. 

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was on the lower east side of Manhattan located on the top floors of an 11 storey building. Most of its workers were migrants working for low pay and long hours. The custom and practice in factories was to lock doors and limit exits to prevent theft. Smoking was banned but people did anyway. 

So when fire broke out on 25 March 1911, the combination of flammable materials and no means of escape let to a fire of such intensity that many of the workers chose to jump out the window their deaths. This was a scene that would not be repeated until the 9-11 90 years later in a harrowing repetition of New York history. All told 146 workers died. Most of them were women. 

But the fire is not the only part of the story. Through necessity  women who left Russia and persecution find themselves in roles to provide for families. The harsh conditions and petty penalties led to an 11-week general strike for better working conditions in  1909. It also led to the growth of the union movement in the garment industry. 

The vast storytelling gives the actors a number of roles as storytellers moving from the old land to the new. But at the centre of the piece is Rosa (played by Hannah Genesius . She is the dreamer turned pragmatist in the piece as she comes to New York and needs to find work to survive. Genesius keeps the piece focussed and the pace moving like a conductor. 

Josh Collins as her potential partner is terrific and gives the piece some welcome humour. Emma King as her friend at the factory gives the piece warmth. 

While the tragedy led to improved practices, it is hard not to question whether much has changed or whether some of the practices have just moved offshore. Primark Shirts made in substandard factories that collapsed in Bangladesh. H&M factories without proper fire exits. iPhones made at Foxconn where there is a high suicide rate.  Even closer to home there is Sports Direct running a modern day workhouse in its own distribution centre. 

Going to work is still a matter of life and death for many. At least some of us can demand better from the places we shop at and where we invest our money.

Directed by Rory McGregor, The Great Divide is at the Finborough Theatre on Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees until 20 September.


Photos: production photos by Graeme Braidwood

Updated to correct errors in the dates


Monday, September 05, 2016

Eat your young: Unfaithful @found111

The central message from Unfaithful by Owen McCafferty is that it is still an older persons world. The older generation is screwing the younger generation over and over. They get the early retirements, they clinched Brexit, and they get free TV licences. All at the expense of the younger generations who will pay for it. And here those youngsters are also fair game for sex.

For fifty-something couple Tom and Joan, it’s too late to do anything else. They are stuck with each other. But the play opens with Tom confessing that he had a sexual relationship with a younger woman. So Joan seeks revenge sex by hiring a male escort.

Meanwhile Tara is bored working at the checkout at Tescos and her frustrated her partner Peter - a male escort - doesn’t have a day job.

And thus begins this four hander about relationships. It is full of dirty talk about eating this and fucking that. But mostly it is middle-aged sex fantasy and I suspect an excellent show to catch if you’re over fifty. For the rest of us it is a harrowing experience.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Mad about the boy: Britten in Brooklyn @wiltonmusichall

Britten in Brooklyn currently playing at Wilton’s Music Hall is a good looking production. But the trouble with a piece about artists at their least artistic period of their lives is that not a lot happens. In the end you feel as if you have been watching Celebrity Big Brother, without the cheap thrills of seeing anyone being a cat... Or getting confused about which David died.

At the height of the Second World War, Benjamin Britten takes off to America, avoiding conscription and the conflict in Europe. He stays in Brooklyn in an artistic commune with his friend poet WH Auden. Writer Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee are also staying there.

I was half-expecting an evening of debauchery and creativity. But it was mostly introspection. Still upset over the death of his mother and reception of his works in England, Britten is seeking solace from all that. He also is coming to grips with his homosexuality, budding relationship with Peter Peers and his pacifism.