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Eternal guilt: Dorian The Musical @SWKplay

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Dorian is a new musical that updates Oscar Wilde’s gothic novel from the uptight Victorian era to an undetermined period of gender fluidity and glam rock. On paper, musicalising the Picture of Dorian Gray to a period of glam rock, social media, and cheap shoes seems like a good idea. After all, Oscar Wilde’s gothic story is very adaptable. It has been the source of countless adaptations for the stage, television or movies. I was half expecting a trashy Dorian, similar to the early 1980s telemovie that shifted Dorian’s gender to a woman. This version falls into a so bad it’s good category with Anthony Perkins in a lead role, who as he ages under makeup starts to look like Andy Warhol.  And while it’s great to see a new show, a strong cast can’t compensate for such an earnest production with underpowered songs. There’s no sense of fun, and some curious staging and costume choices  -mismatched dresses, crocodile boots and furry suits - serve as a distraction. It’s currently playing at th

Eternal guilt: Dorian The Musical @SWKplay

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Dorian is a new musical that updates Oscar Wilde’s gothic novel from the uptight Victorian era to an undetermined period of gender fluidity and glam rock. On paper, musicalising the Picture of Dorian Gray to a period of glam rock, social media, and cheap shoes seems like a good idea. After all, Oscar Wilde’s gothic story is very adaptable. It has been the source of countless adaptations for the stage, television or movies. I was half expecting a trashy Dorian, similar to the early 1980s telemovie that shifted Dorian’s gender to a woman. This version falls into a so bad it’s good category with Anthony Perkins in a lead role, who as he ages under makeup starts to look like Andy Warhol.  And while it’s great to see a new show, a strong cast can’t compensate for such an earnest production with underpowered songs. There’s no sense of fun, and some curious staging and costume choices  -mismatched dresses, crocodile boots and furry suits - serve as a distraction. It’s currently playing at th

Theatre of Blood: The Bleeding Tree @Swkplay

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Domestic violence in Australia is never far away from the news. Some statistics suggest it is more prevalent down under than other similar countries . There are podcasts about women who mysteriously disappear only to find that the suspect, the male partner, was never charged with a crime.  The Bleeding Tree is an evocative tale of revenge against a backdrop of domestic violence and cruelty. And what happens when the women take back control? With painstaking and, at times, gruesome descriptions of the despair and their support for each other, it’s a harrowing yet rewarding tale of resilience and survival. It’s currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse, Borough .  Set in a remote homestead in the Australian outback, a mother (mum played by Maria Gale) and her two daughters, Ida (Elizabeth Dulau) and Ada (Alexandra Jensen), come to terms with the decision they take to kill a man who was a source of cruelty and abuse. While a cover story that he went to visit his sister “up north” moves

Bit parts: Garry Starr Performs Everything @swkplay

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Garry Starr Performs Everything is a bare-bones (and bare buttocks) tribute to the theatre. Theatre may be in trouble, and audiences are down, but Garry Starr aims to save the theatre and bring back to the masses every style of theatre possible. As long as each style involves wearing a transparent white leotard or a skimpy thong. And tassels. It's part comedy, part physical comedy and part perv at Gary's physical prowess. The sentiment "if you've got it, flaunt it" applies here. So here we are with a show that has been around for some years and is having its first proper London run at the Southwark Playhouse (Borough) through Christmas. The premise is that Garry Starr (played by Damien Warren-Smith) has left the Royal Shakespeare Company over artistic differences. He is now on a mission to save the theatre from misrepresentation and worthy interpretations by doing things such as a two-minute Hamlet, recreating scenes from a Pinter play using unsuspecting audience

Axes to grind: Lizzie @Swkplay

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Arriving at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant , there are plenty of pigeons (real and otherwise) inside and outside the theatre.  Having not been there since it opened at the start of the year, I figured it was an art installation.  Little did I know that it was a crucial part of Lizzie, the hard rock, full-throated true crime rock musical.  Pigeons are solace from a stifling, oppressive life for an unmarried woman in 1890s Massachusetts.  And that is probably all the subtlety you'll get in this high-energy production.  It originated at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester and now makes a lot of noise in the Southwark Playhouse's basement venue.  Based on the trial of the century in 1890s Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden was acquitted of murdering her stepmother and father with an axe.  Over time, everyone believed she had done it.  There's even a nursery rhyme about her.  This piece is less interested in the whodunnit and more in the whyshedunnit.  Set to a driving rock score.  

Big Business: How to succeed in business without really trying @swkplay

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This revival of the Frank Loesser musical is as much about climbing the corporate ladder as it is about giving a fresh take on the absurdity of the office and gender roles.  However, there's also a firm appreciation that this is a musical comedy.  And with an energetic cast with an impeccable sense of comic timing, it's a hilarious and thought-provoking evening.  It's currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse. The show comes from a parody of a self-help business book.  The premise is that a lowly window washer becomes board chairman in a few weeks and gets the girl.  Along the way, there are stupid bosses, sexist colleagues and nepotism.  Only this time, J Pierpoint Finch is played by Gabrielle Friedman.  Depending on your perspective, Finch is either the hero or the antihero of the piece, stopping at nothing in their ambition to reach the top.  Here Finch is more sympathetic as the underappreciated service worker getting a lucky break and a chance to climb the corporate

Insane in the membrane: Yeast Nation, The Triumph of Life @swkplay

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A musical about yeast conjures up all sorts of things about what it could be. Is it about a nation's obsession with home baking during a lockdown? Or is it the latest infection outbreak? No, it's neither of these. Instead, it is a rock musical about the unicellular organisms living in the primordial soup. Purporting to be the oldest story of all time (as it’s probably hard to go back further than single-cell organisms), It's part rock musical, part history lesson, part Greek chorus and part bonkers. And it's currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse . Narrated by Jan, the unnamed, it tells the tale of a series of salt-eating yeasts (all called Jan) at the bottom of the primordial soup/sea. They are in stasis, following careful strictures, so they don't reproduce or change. They sing a catchy tune called stasis is the membrane and live a balanced life with the soup around them.  But not all yeasts are satisfied with stasis. And when some yeasts rise to the top to

Crime and pedagogy: The Lesson @Swkplay

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There's a moment in the Lesson when the Professor is giving his eager pupil tutoring in mathematics. She has excelled with additions to this point and can multiply infinitely. But the whole concept of subtraction baffles her. The Professor's disappointment is palpable, and his anger grows every time she says seven when trying to subtract three from four. Thus begins a descent into absurdity and madness in this briskly paced piece that appears to be about nothing and everything. It’s currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse . The Lesson is an early play by playwright Eugene Ionesco and is an excellent introduction to the theatre of the absurd. The premise is that a relatively mild-mannered professor provides an enthusiastic young lady tutoring so she can get her doctorates in everything. Well, if knowledge is power, why not learn everything? It made perfect sense to me. She is bursting with excitement to learn at first. But each time she struggles to comprehend and get it ri

Colour and Light: Anyone Can Whistle @swkplay

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What’s hard is simple. What’s natural comes hard, so the lyrics in the title song, Anyone Can Whistle. But this production,  currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse , takes one of the more challenging Sondheim musicals and makes it seem effortless and straightforward to enjoy. And they deliver it with endless enthusiasm and panache. It’s a bonkers story about a town that comes up with a miracle to attract tourists and improve its prospects. Up to this point, the only thing going for it was its sanitarium for the socially pressured (otherwise known as the Cookie Jar). These people, known as the cookies, are non-conformists. Yet they seem to be happier than anyone else in the town. But as the show progresses, its none too subtle digs at religion, authority, politics, and conformism can make your head spin about what institution it is taking on.  The best thing is to let much of the absurdist story fly over your head. After all, even Sondheim critiqued it for being too clever . But t

Will you still love me tomorrow: The Woods @swkplay

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In The Woods, conversations drift into seemingly random discussions about seagulls, raccoons, or aliens. Perhaps it's due to the isolation from being set in a remote cabin. But it's also a heterosexual play, so that means there's a man, woman and inevitable conflict. But even if there aren't any surprises in this revival of David Mamet's 1977 work, the performances and the staging keep you focussed on it like you're a voyeur in the proceedings. It's currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse.  The Woods is set entirely at a secluded cabin on the porch of a summer house. It's early September, and Nick seems to have been keen on taking things to the next level with Ruth. Ruth seems keen too since she took the trouble to buy a gift for Nick. But slowly, from Dusk through the night, things begin to unravel. Things that are banal and trivial become blown out of proportion. Sex becomes complicated, and ultimately there's an outburst that takes everything

Donkeys have fun too: My Son Pinocchio Jr @SWKPlay

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The British Theatre Academy, which provides theatre training and performance opportunities for young people is back at the Southwark Playhouse for the summer for a series of shows, including My Son Pinocchio Jr. It’s a condensed version of the 2006 musical, My Son Pinocchio: Geppetto’s Musical Tale. This was based on a television movie musical Geppetto. The show is a retelling of the Pinocchio but from Geppetto’s perspective. It opens with the ever cheery Blue Fairy telling everyone that she is going to celebrate the story of one of her wishes that came out perfectly lovely. Only for Geppetto to appear and say he wants her to take him back.  It turns out that Pinocchio wasn’t all that lovely after all. And not what he expected. Mainly because he did boy things like ask the wrong questions, gets in a fight at school and then runs away to a puppet show. Which is fair enough, but then again Geppetto was forcing Pinocchio to be a toy-maker rather than a train driver. The story

Fantasies: Afterglow @Swkplay

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Nowadays no self-respecting gay play can be staged without full frontal nudity of some kind. It feels like the default response for the modern gay play now that gay rights are no longer an issue .   Afterglow, currently playing at Southwark Playhouse , serves it up in spades. From the beginning, three men are in a bed, naked. There’s what appears to be a very brief exhalation of ecstasy, before the obligatory rush to the shower. But the gratuitous nudity and excellent performances can’t conceal this is a pretty conventional and predictable story about a fantasy couple.  The three men in the simultaneous orgasm at the start of the piece are Josh, Alex and Darius. Josh and Alex seem to live in a New York world where they can afford a rooftop apartment in Manhattan while holding jobs as a theatre director and a grad student in chemistry. As writer S. Asher Gelman based it on his own experiences, perhaps gay plays with full frontal nudity are the way to achieve financial security

The best little warehouse in England: The Night Before Christmas @SWKplay

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If you’re not into the Christmas spirit, you might be into Christmas dust. It’s the joyful powder the little elves put everywhere and it’s addictive. And distracts you from the shitty life you’re having right now... Anthony Neilson’s dark anti-festive comedy is having its first revival at the Southwark Playhouse . Nothing’s off limits in this tale set in some out of town warehouse on Christmas Eve. Gary (Douggie McMeekin) has called his mate Simon (Michael Salami) for help. He’s caught some little bloke dressed up as an Elf trying to break in (Dan Starkey). He’s tied him up with Christmas lights and not sure what to do. But as they debate calling the police, a prostitute by the name of Cherry (Unique Spencer) comes calling. She’s after some Powers Ranger figures for her son’s Christmas present. It’s payment for the blowjob she gave Gary earlier. And nobody is sure if the Elf is who he says he is, or just a junkie trying to get his next fix. That pretty much sets the tone in this short,

The cat mashes the hat: Seussical @SWKplay

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Seussical is a mash-up of Dr Seuss stories i nto a musical extravaganza that’s short in length and long on spectacle. It’s 75 minutes of flair, dazzle and fun songs. Perfect for little people, or people with little attention spans. It’s currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse . It’s a condensed version of the musical by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and based on the stories of Dr Seuss. Trimmed from it’s bloated original form, it allows the show with it’s catchy broadway songs to be fun without being too dull or sentimental. This version focuses on the stories Horton Hears a Who and Horton Sits on the Egg. Both of these stories focus on a well-meaning elephant who gets more than he bargained for by the other animals in the jungle. And there’s a girl who gets the “thinks” too much for her own good. The cat in the hat acts as the mischief-making ringmaster. Here he’s played by the mischievously entertaining Marc Pickering. With his deadpan expressions, he only has to look aroun

I Can do That: Bring It On @swkplay

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Some death-defying cheerleading stunts and a whole lot of energy make the British Theatre Academy’s youth production of Bring It On a slick and polished extravaganza. Even if perhaps the acrobatic-style choreography comes at the expense of the vocals. And at times seems to look painful. It’s currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse . There’s no denying the excitement of watching talented individuals bend and snap their way through a series of complicated manoeuvres. It builds up to a finale that has enough throws, cartwheels and catches to have you gasping in amazement. Bring it On is based on the 2000 movie of the same name starring Kirsten Dunst. It’s fascinating to contemplate how many of the cast may not have even been born then. It’s about a cheerleader who is transferred from a middle class school to a rough one so a rival can take her place. She then plots her revenge. For a show called Bring It On, it takes a while to get going. The music has two composers. Tom Kitt and Ama

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.

Victims of circumstance: Mother Courage And Her Children @swkplay

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War is hell. War is a bitch. But everyone has to scrape by and make a living. Tony Kushner's translation of Mother Courage And Her Children was given an epic staging at the National Theatre in 2009. Here in the more intimate surroundings of Southwark Playhouse , there's less spectacle. But it's still worth a look. Particularly if you're sitting on the right side of the traverse. Brecht's piece should make you feel uncomfortable with sharp observations about capitalism, war and religion. This production just makes you feel uncomfortable. If you're sitting on the wrong side you will have to make do with either stretching your neck or imaging what's going on behind you.

The lady’s not for turning: Doubt A Parable @swkplay

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It feels as if Doubt, A Parable, has transformed the Southwark Playhouse into a church. There’s the smell of incense, the stained glass and way too many seats for the audience in attendance. But a sensational subject, the ambiguity of the story and terrific performances make this a must see. It’s a tense and brisk and ambiguous piece that will leave you debating exactly what you saw. The award-winning play by John Patrick Shanley is set in a fictional Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964. Sister Aloysius (Stella Gonet) is the head of a grade school. She’s convinced that Father Flynn (Jonathan Chambers) has had an inappropriate relationship with a boy in her school.

It's not the work, but the stairs: The Life @swkplay

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Whores with hearts of gold are back on stage with this slick and star-powered production of The Life at Southwark Playhouse . It's a musical about the sleazy underworld of prostitution and pimps of the 1970s / 1980s New York set to songs from the 1930s. Well, it felt like they did, and it was hard to tell which one was out of place. But even if the piece isn't a documentary of sex workers in the city, it presents a joyful set of tarts and pimps as an opportunity to celebrate being alive. Or at least being alive enough to take seven men in a single night. Combined with a great cast and one of the best looking and best sounding productions in the Southwark Playhouse make it a worthwhile trip.

Cheap locker room talk: Promises Promises @swkplay

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Songs by Burt Bacharach and a great cast can't conceal the paper-thin story and an awful lot of what probably is best described today as locker room talk in Promises Promises. It's currently playing at Southwark Playhouse . It's based on Billy Wilder's film The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. It's about a young man who sees a way of climbing the corporate ladder by lending out his apartment to executives for brief encounters. But in the translation from screen to stage, it feels slow and repetitive. At three hours it draws out the drama and loses the comedy with the relentless locker room talk, superfluous songs and dialogue.

Previewing the slags: Confessional @swkplay

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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.