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Bear with me: Stitches @TheHopeTheatre

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What if your teddy bear could talk? My ten-year-old self would think that to be excellent. My more recent self would think it was a high-concept buddy movie with Mark Wahlberg. But in Stictches, Jonathan Blakeley's monologue, which he has written and performed, traces the life of his beloved Chloe, from when she was first given to him by her grandmother, wrapped with a red ribbon. It becomes a story not just about a cute bear (or maybe that should be rough, shaggy-looking bear given the performer’s appearance) observing life but an exploration of life and all of its stages. It's currently playing at the Hope Theatre .  The bear is not warm and fuzzy; he is a bit of a character and tough-talking, but also a bit anxious about being accepted and then discarded as nothing. But he is there to bear witness as she navigates the complicated facets of growing up and having a life. Ultimately, the bear has to deal with being consigned to a box with her other memories until circumstances

Mind the gap: One Under @arcolatheatre

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Winsome Pinnock’s play, One Under revisits the aftermath of a young black man’s suicide on the London Underground. The pieces of his life are recreated in search of meaning. It’s a fascinating (albeit slowly paced) tale about a life not lived. Produced by Graeae, which specialises in placing deaf and disabled artists on stage alongside Theatre Royal Plymouth, it’s been on tour before settling in for a short run at the Arcola Theatre . He’s Sonny by name and by nature. But something isn’t quite right. He thinks people follow him and watch him. He has lots of money too. Is he paranoid, or are there darker forces at play? After his death, the tube driver of the train that killed him, Cyrus (Stanley J Browne), goes on a mission to find sense out the senseless loss of life. Befriending his adopted mother and tracking down he is girlfriend at a laundrette, his determination to make sense of it all starts to become an obsession itself. The play underscores that despite appearances,

Taking the leak: Count Ory @arcolatheatre

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August at the Arcola Theatre is an opportunity to see fresh takes on classic operas or forgotten works by up and coming opera companies and artists. They call it Grimeborn (just so you’re not to be confused with that other opera festival near Lewes). This year’s series included a chance to see Rossini’s Le Comte Ory translated into English by company Opera Alegria . The time and place have shifted from the Crusades to the Second World War, but it’s still the same story.  A  slightly randy Count Ory (Robert Jenkins) tries to woo his way into the life of Countess Adéle (Naomi Kilby) while her brother is off fighting the war. While the women wait for their men to return, they’re growing vegetables and making do on the home front. But Count Ory hatches a scheme for him to appear as a hermit who can advise on matters of the heart. That doesn’t go to plan, and Adéle falls in love with a farm boy. So his next idea is to reveal his true feelings to her, disguised as a nun. It’s a

Another look at nowt: The Daughter-In-Law @arcolatheatre

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Last May the  Arcola  Theatre presented The Daughter-In-Law in it’s downstairs space. Now is the chance to revisit this piece in its larger theatre. And it’s great to have another look at this simple tale and evocative production about lives against the backdrop of the 1912 miner’s strike.   Transferring from the intimate downstairs space gives the production a bigger audience and a bigger space to work with. And while it loses some of the intense claustrophobia of the smaller space it also seemed funnier. And more shocking. With it’s local dialect and intense relationships you soon find yourself drawn into the life of this Nottinghamshire mining town.  DH Lawrence’s drama, written in 1913, is set a world where money and family are your means for survival.  Mrs Gascoyne (Veronica Roberts) has two sons who are still in her orbit. The youngest Joe (Matthew Biddulph) is carefree and careless living at home. The other Luther (Matthew Barker) has just married.  But the marriage

From owt to nowt: The Daughter-in-Law @arcolatheatre

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Family ties are strong and stifling in The Daughter-in-Law. It’s a snapshot of working class life against the backdrop of the 1912 miner’s strike. It’s expertly presented in the downstairs space of the Arcola Theatre . It feels as if you’re in the mining cottage as an accidental witness. The performances, drama and intimate space will have you transfixed throughout.  DH Lawrence’s drama, written in 1913, is set in a Nottinghamshire mining town. It’s a world where money is crucial for survival. There are those who have it, those striking for better conditions and those who are bargaining for more of it.  The “daughter-in-law” in question is Minnie (Ellie Nunn). She is a  somewhat independent woman who by chance inherited £100. She’s married to Luther (Harry Hepple) after asking him. After less than a few months marriage, Luther seems to resent his wife’s economic independence to the point that he’s ambivalent to her existence. But it’s his relationship with another woman that sets in tr

When I kissed the teacher: Moormaid @ArcolaTheatre

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Life is too much to bear even when you’re an art teacher with sexy students who undress you with their long gazes. And then let you paint their muscular bodies with acrylic. Well that’s only part of Marion Bott’s play Moormaid which is having its premiere at the Arcola Theatre .  Layered with meaning, there’s much passion and drama in the piece. But it’s the performances by the two leads that make it unmissable. Even if at times you’re admiring the piece for for its aesthetics over a coherent story. It’s late night in Berlin. Melissa (Sarah Alles) is an art teacher on the edge. Her husband is away and she’s due to exhibit her works but has painted nothing in two years. Full of despair she is about to do something drastic when there’s a knock on the door. It’s a former student Medhi (Moe Bar-El). He’s had a dream and had to see her.  But he’s not exactly her saviour. He dropped out of her life two years ago and has his own demons to face. And a past adventure gone wrong comes to visit h

Bad stuff happens: Insignificance @arcolatheatre

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Insignificance at the Arcola Theatre takes four famous people from the 1950s and puts them in a hotel room. Is it a nostalgia piece or is there a deeper meaning? Written by Terry Johnson, it’s having its first revival in over twenty years. In the second act, the senator (meant to be Joeseph McCarthy) talks about how heroes, geniuses and stars serve as a convenient distraction. It’s also tempting to see parallels with the present day. Thirty five years ago it was the Reagan era and the threat of nuclear war from a trigger-happy b-movie actor-president. In the intervening years there have been desert storms, coalitions of the willing (with or without poodles). In the future maybe there’ll be a battle between little rocket man and the oversized Oompa Loompa. Horrible stuff happens. And the heroes, geniuses and the celebrities exist just to make us feel there’s hope.

Lost and distant: All The Little Lights @arcolatheatre

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All the Little Lights by Jane Upton is a dark and moving story about girls who have slipped through the net. But the unsettling part of the piece is that they can come from all sorts of backgrounds and how easy it can happen to anyone. It's playing at the Arcola Theatre . It opens with Lisa (Sarah Hoare) and Joanne (Tessie Orange-Turner). Once they were like sisters but something has happened and now they're distant.

Remote arguments: The Marriage of Kim K @arcolatheatre @marriageofkimk

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The Arcola Theatre's annual Grimeborn Opera Festival opened this year with Leoe & Hyde's The Marriage of Kim K . It contrasts the life of Kim Kardashian and her brief marriage to basketballer Kris Humphries with the different backgrounds of the count and countess in Mozart's opera. But this piece really boils down to who has the remote control in the living room. There is a third couple in the proceedings - Amelia and Stephen. She is a law student and likes to watch trashy television and he is a composer who wants to watch something more challenging. You would think they would get a tablet and headphones and stream like everyone else. But this story was added after composer and director Stephen Hyde fell for his leading lady Amelia Gabriel. So a show about a reality show becomes its own reality show. It's so meta it is enough to do your head in.

Cooking with gas: Kenny Morgan @ArcolaTheatre

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Gay angst, cigarettes and gas. Kenny Morgan at the Arcola Theatre re imagines Terrence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea as how things might have happened. The suicide of bit actor Kenneth Morga n may have been the inspiration for this work about a woman abandoned by her alcoholic younger lover. Here Mike Poulton takes the story and places it in gritty, closeted post war Camden. After a decade of living in a closeted relationship with Terrence Ratigan, Kenny Morgan leaves him for a young bisexual actor, Alec.

The lights are on: hamlet is dead. no gravity. @arcolatheatre

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The old keep living and the young are dying. It is all a bit random and unpredictable with these birthdays, deaths and marriages in hamlet is dead. no gravity. It is one of four pieces playing as part of the Volta International Festival at the Arcola Theatre . The work by German writer Ewald Palmetshofer is both fascinating, challenging and amusing. The work deals with the premise about how people tend to tense up in uncomfortable situations, be it the mother who longs for her mother to be dead, a marriage of convenience, an unexplained death or a brother and sister who seem awfully close. Things gradually build to an unexpected climax.

Oh what a lovely war on terror: Product @arcolatheatre

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One of the lasting memories about watching the 9/11 terrorist attacks unfold live on television was wondering what would happen next. There was the first tower, then the second, then the Pentagon, and then somewhere in middle America. A few weeks later there would be the anthrax scare , the need to be alert but not alarmed , and to buy up duct tape . In the immediate post 9/11 period there was so much paranoia about how clever and evil the perpetrators of this terrorist attack were, that anything next was possible. Product , currently playing at the Arcola Theatre, is Mark Ravenhill's monologue about the pitching of a dubious script. It brings back the memories of the worst of this post 9/11 paranoia.

On target: Shrapnel 34 Fragments of a Massacre @arcolatheatre

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Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre by Anders Lustgarten is an angry and sweeping account of the Roboski airstrike that took place in December 2011 near the border of Iraq. Politicians, the military, modernity and the industrial complex are all called into account here. The startling thing about this piece however is how it shows it is so easy to forget the incident as just another case of collateral damage in a land far away. The relentless coverage of war and conflict framed through two minute television news stories simplifies everything and desensitises you. It also removes any chance to understand the context and history. This piece tries to slap you about and wake you out of such complacency.

Hot Bath tales: The Rivals @arcolatheatre

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The Rivals at the Arcola Theatre is such a high energy production with a terrific cast, that the silliness of the plot and length of the evening whizzes by. Sheridan's comedy of manners directed by Selina Cadell, is given an injection of fast pacing and a range of archetypes that seem to take inspiration from Comedia dell'arte to Pantomime and make the show a real treat.