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Laugh yer bastards: The Grinning Man @TrafStudios

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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…

Giving a toss: East @KingsHeadThtr

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Dirty, smutty and just a little bit Shakespearean. East takes you back to the rough and tumble of the good ol’ days of London. A time when fascists roamed the streets, baked beans on toast was considered cuisine and street brawls were just for laughs. Some time between the 1950s and the 1970s in East End London. It’s playing at the Kings Head Theatre.But in the forty or so years since it premiered something seems amiss with this piece. It feels desperate to shock rather than the genuine article. Every c-bomb and mother-son jerk off seemed telegraphed in advance rather than something new, fresh and gross.Perhaps nothing surprises us anymore in the city where the horrors are real. Modern day enslavement, sexual harassment, acid attacks and the Grenfell disaster. A punch up in a bar and a wank in the cinema are cute by comparison. Still it’s energy is fascinating. If a tad exhausting to watch. A series of scenes and monologues explode in front of you before disappearing. Leaving you to pi…

Sexual depravity in Norfolk: Imaginationship @Finborough

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Mum’s a nymphomaniac. The daughter’s learning Greek at night school. There’s a Hungarian with an erection problem and a tired old Lesbian who wants to live the quiet life in a bungalow. It could be anywhere but it’s what goes down for fun in Great Yarmouth. Apparently.The piece by Sue Healy is having a short run at the Finborough Theatre. It was first seen as part of the Vibrant 2017 festival as a staged reading. Now in its full form, the town that voted overwhelmingly for Brexit seems like a cesspit of debauchery. Never mind the migrants taking jobs, it’s the migrants with the big nobs you need to watch out for. As a piece of post-Brexit theatre you leave the theatre knowing even less about Great Yarmouth than you did going in.
If you didn’t read the programme notes or wasn’t familiar with the area already, you’d be none the wiser about the place and its history. This includes that it was a seaside resort and fishing port. It also services the North Shore oil rig industry. Most of t…

Drifting on edge: Heartbreak House @theuniontheatre

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Heartbreak House, currently playing at the Union Theatre, is a glorious production with a strong cast. Funny, a little bit bonkers and intriguing. But too bad George Bernard attempts to layer everything with meaning and substance. Afterall underneath various subplots there are sharp observations about British indifference. These seem as relevant now as it was when the piece premiered in 1919. It opens with Hesione (Helen Anker), a bohemian Edwardian hostess inviting her friend and protégé Ellie (Leanne Harvey) to a weekend at her father’s house. She wants to prevent Ellie from marrying an older industrialist, Boss Mangan (JP Turner). And so she’s arranged a gathering of friends to prevent it from happening. Hesione’s father is the eccentric and cantankerous Captain Shotover (James Horne). He made his money in munitions and is trying to invent a weapon to explode enemy dynamite. They need a new invention as the money’s running out. Complications arise when Shotover’s estranged daughter…

Personal atrocities: Into The Numbers @finborough

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Into the Numbers is a haunting exploration into the mind of writer Iris Chang and her struggle with success and demons. Written by Christopher Chen, it’s having its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre.Iris Chang wrote a best selling book about the massacre of 300,000 civilians in Nanking at the hands of Japanese soldiers. The book, The Rape of Nanking, describes in graphic detail the way in which people were brutally murdered. Including an estimated 80,000 women and young girls were raped. Seven years later, Chang would kill herself at the age of 36, leaving a suicide note that was meticulously edited and rewritten.
What’s fascinating about the piece is how Chen uses fragments from her personal and professional life to explain why this happened. In doing so, he not only explores the subject matter but also gets beneath the surface of mental illness.Opening as a lecture and an interview with Chang, the piece sets the scene and recounts facts from the book. But things begins to w…

Ripe and appealing: Bananaman @Swkplay

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What’s striking about Bananaman is how the cast are determined to make sure you’ll have a good time with this incredibly silly yet appealing show. No joke is too old or no sight gag is overlooked. It’s currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse. Along the way they also sing a few good tunes in this new musical by Leon Paris. You’re likely to leave the theatre humming the song Bananaman on your way home. Possibly because it is sung so many times.

Christmas in Hull: FCUK’D @BunkertheatreUK

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FCUK’D at The Bunker is a an alternative Christmas theatre experience about life on the margins of British life.A teenage boy kidnaps his little brother and they run away. Escaping their grim council flat, daily run-ins with the authorities and in search of something better than this in the lead up to Christmas.Estimates put it at around 100,000 children run away from home every year. This piece unpacks some of the reasons why. Dad is gone. Mum is either drinking or comatose. Nobody cares about them and so they’re going to have some fun. They steal crisps from the supermarket. They steal a car. And then they burn it for warmth.Written and directed by Niall Ransome, the story is told in verse. Ransome took inspiration from his experiences growing up in Hull.

It’s delivered convincingly by Will Mytum as the troubled youth. He engages you through it’s short duration. Pacing about the stage, eyeing the audience, brining to life this tale about never getting a break.The stage is a square o…