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Belters and bohemians: Opera Locos @Sadlers_wells

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At the start of the Opera Locos performance, the announcement says that they really are singing. You could be forgiven for wondering that, given the amplification turns up the backing track and the voices so loud that you can't always tell what's real. But this is a mostly harmless and slightly eccentric blend of opera classics fused with the occasional pop classic. However, recognising the pop tunes would help if you were over a certain age. The most recent of them dates back twenty years. It's currently playing at the Peacock Theatre .  Five performers play out a variety of archetype opera characters. There's the worn-out tenor (Jesús Álvarez), the macho baritone (Enrique Sánchez-Ramos), the eccentric counter-tenor (Michaël Kone), the dreamy soprano (María Rey-Joly) and the wild mezzo-soprano (Mayca Teba). Since my singing days, I haven't recognised these types of performers. However, once, I recall a conductor saying he wanted no mezzo-sopranos singing with the s

Those magnificent men: Square Rounds @Finborough

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After watching Square Rounds it’s tempting to ponder did the toilet inspire some of the great discoveries of science. The toilet features prominently in this production. The invention of the modern toilet created the need for synthetic fertiliser. Which in turn led to the creation of the chemical weapons and explosives used to devastating effect in the First World War. And so goes Tony Harrison’s anti-war polemic about those who invented the great weapons of mass destruction. It’s having it’s first production in almost 30 years at the Finborough Theatre . The set is in blacks and whites. Just like the world of science.  But the clarity of science is lost in the fog of war as each great invention with a noble purpose also serves a more destructive one.  It’s depicted by an all-female ensemble to underscore that at wartime it was the women manning the factories. Doing all the work. And mostly spoken in verse. It’s a fascinating and provocative piece. With songs, projections and magic tri

Urban renewal: Flesh & Bone @Sohotheatre

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From the beginning of Flesh & Bone, it’s a noisy in your face portrait of life on an East London council estate. It’s almost as if you expect them to punch any member of the audience checking their phone. Or leaving to go to the bathroom. They shout at the audience, they even pick one up so a baby can be delivered on their seat. It’s currently playing upstairs at The Soho Theatre . But amongst the loud mouths, drug dealers and geezers there’s a bunch of rough but loveable characters emerge. Even if you still remain unsure if want to share a pint with them. It could be considered a follow up to Berkoff’s East, given it’s reliance on verse and comedy. But it is less confronting. And the attempt to throw the threat of council eviction towards the end seems contrived. But it’s still a clever piece of writing. Aside from the fast-talking and fast paced action, it sets up a series of characters that have you wanting to know more about them.  There’s Terrence (Elliot Warren) and his bird

Duelling sopranos, love gone wrong: Der Schauspieldirektor and Bastien Und Bastienne @Popupoperauk

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The singing is always the key to Popup Opera’s touring operas in small or unusual spaces. Along with the chance to see some overlooked or minor pieces by famous composers. Again the company does not disappoint with its Mozart double bill: Der Schauspieldirektor and Bastien Und Bastienne. The first half of the piece, Der Schauspieldirektor, is essentially half an hour of music stretched out to a mildly amusing farce. Tradition has it that the dialogue around this piece is rewritten. Here the scenario is duelling auditions between two sopranos when a struggling opera company can only afford one. It’s an amusing premise that becomes a bit silly in its execution. But there’s still some serious music making. Particularly when older diva Sarah Helena Foubert and younger diva Hazel McBain spar in a thrilling duet. In the second half we have Bastien Und Bastienne. Both consult a relationship guru (updated from a soothsayer) when one suspects the other is having an affair. After a series of s

Oughta be in pictures: The Biograph Girl @Finborough

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Musicals are usually about a love story. In The Biograph Girl, the love story is about the love of going to the flickers and the people who made them. The flickers were what people called the short silent movies. Before they started treating the medium as a form of art. And a source of serious money making. The show is having its first professional production in nearly forty years at the Finborough Theatre . While there’s much love for the subject, a musical covering the early years of film is a tad ambitious. Covering the stories of Lilian Gish, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith doesn’t allow much time to explore them in any detail. Or any of the peripheral characters that surround them. People come and go. Only by reading the programme notes do you get a sense of who they were. And while the musical numbers are fun, they also tend to slow down rather than advance their stories.  It’s a minimalist production too with its plain white walls, a few chairs and an electric piano. It’s a pity

Fear and loathing in London: Grotty @BunkerTheatreUK

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Daring to go where no other Lesbian comedy drama does, Grotty takes you to the underworld of the London lesbian scene. No subculture is left unturned and no mind game is left unplayed. It’s weird, creepy and funny. And currently playing at The Bunker . Written and performed by Izzy Tennyson, she introduces you to the world of London lesbian scene. It’s a scene that takes place in “a couple of little sad old basements that drip with sweat and piss.” At this point it’s tempting to scour your surrounding just to reassure yourself this basement theatre is not one of them. It’s lovely and worth a visit for it’s provocative stories. Including this one. Tennyson plays Rigby, a young girl with two girlfriends. One named Toad (Rebekah Hinds) who likes lesbian bingo and curry. The other’s named Witch (Grace Chilton) who is a tattooist and likes putting Rigby in a dog collar. Both have very nice flats and strange proclivities that Rigby indulges for reasons that aren’t always clear. Rigby is a cl

Keep it gay: Twang!! @TheUnionTheatre

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Any time of the year you can watch Oliver! on television. Lionel Bart’s musical take on the tale of Dickens made him a fortune and is memorable for its music and a slick movie musical. A few years later under the influence of alcohol and LSD he wrote Twang!! A notorious and expensive disaster than ran for only 43 performances, it would cost him his fortune. But rest assured the Union Theatre hasn’t resurrected a curiosity for the benefit of musical theatre aficionados. As amusing in its own way that would be. This Twang!! is new. Or at least with a story that makes some form of sense. With a new book by Julian Woolford and updated orchestrations by Richard John, it’s a chance to see a lost Lionel Bart musical. The premise is that after years of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor Robin Hood has lost his twang. It’s a bit like the Middle Ages equivalent of mojo. It’s now his merry men who do most of the heavy lifting. Meanwhile Much, the millers son, has run away from home. He

Pass it on: Reared @Theatre503

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L iving with your mother in law and a daughter who’s pregnant sets the scene for some tough Irish mothering in Reared. A play by John Fitzpatrick that sets inter-generational conflict as both a tribute and a tribulation. And no matter how hard you fight it, you’ll always end up like your mother. Or in this case, your mother-in-law. It’s currently running at Theatre 503 . Eileen (Shelley Atkinson) is worried about her mother in law, Nora’s increasing forgetfulness. Could it be a sign of dementia? She’s also worried about her daughter Caitlin (Danielle Philips). Caitlin’s pregnant and putting her her dreams of drama school (or at least a shot at university) on hold. They’re just about managing and living under one roof as it’s Nora’s home. For now.  Then there’s Eileen’s ineffectual husband Stuart (Daniel Crossley). And Caitlin’s best friend Colin (Rohan Nedd).  But the men are there for the comic relief. Through a series of monologues and scenes, Fitzpatrick creates a layered story abou

Summer loving: The Lady With A Dog @TabardTheatreUK

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The first flicker of love, marriage and commitment are the subjects of The Lady With a Dog. Chekhov’s summer romance in Yalta is updated to 1920s Britain and France by writer and director Mark Giesser. But the performances and brisk pace capture the fantasy and romance of the story. It’s currently playing at the Tabard Theatre after a successful run at the White Bear Theatre. It opens with the lady and her (imagined) Pomeranian dog being eyed up by Damian Granville (Richard Lynson). He’s a London-based banker on holiday alone in Scotland. His plan is to get her attention by feeding the dog a few biscuits before working his charm on the lady. He’s also married but it’s a thoroughly modern one where his wife allows him to holiday alone in search of other women. But the lady Anne Dennis (Beth Burrows) is also married and holidaying alone due to her husband’s work. Jusxtaposed with their aquaintance are unhappy conversations with their real partners. Soon an attraction develops between th

50 ways to leave: Ok Bye @VAULTFestival #okbye

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The phrase ok bye is so versatile. It can be used for a variety of endings. Some trivial some consequential. It could be full of meaning or absolutely meaningless. And this is the premise of RedBellyBlack’s intriguing show Ok Bye that concludes this weekend at The Vault festival. Based on an idea by co-creators Kate Goodfellow and Vicki Baron, they explore what it means to say goodbye in two parts. Through movement, comedy and lip-syncing dialogue they juxtapose the ways and means of saying goodbye. The first part is three estranged siblings reconnecting during the decline and death of a parent. Through movement and music they explore the transition from being a carefree child to a responsible adult. The second part is a collection of in verbatim stories about good byes to a range of things such as pets, freedom or crackpot religions. The performers mouth to perfection the most bizarre stories about saying goodbye. losing weight or leaving a fundamentalist Christian group are part

Bleak house: The Moor @ORLTheatre

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The scene is set for a moody mystery when you enter the Old Red Lion Theatre to see The Moor. It’s a lmost as if you can feel the peat bog as you take your seat.  A girl is bent over a chair as you enter the theatre. Is she crying? Has there been a crime? Bronagh (Jill McAusland) and her boyfriend Graeme (Oliver Britten) go out for a party across the moor. The next day they discover a man they met that night is missing.  From the outset you understand that Bronagh is terrified of her possessive and abusive partner. But she is also grieving over the recent death of her mother, and suffering post-natal depression.  Did a man disappear and did her boyfriend have anything to do with it? McAusland is engaging as the trapped and confused Bronagh.  Amongst all her dreams and mad stories about elves, is something sinister really at play? As her account of events becomes confused and contradictory, you’re not sure if she saw or took part in a potential crime.  Unfortunately attempts to get to t

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.

Mother and son: The Busy World Is Hushed @Finborough

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Family and faith is at the forefront of The Busy World Is Hushed by Keith Bunin. The characters here have their faith tested, gained and lost over the course of the piece. It's having its European Premiere at the Finborough Theatre. There's Hanna (Kazia Pelka), a widowed minister and bible scholar. She's received a recently discovered gospel and engages the help of writer Brandt (Mateo Oxley), to help her turn her research into a publication. As they start work her only son Thomas (Michael James) returns home from a trip out in the wilderness. And Brandt and Thomas take an almost-instant liking to each other. But Brandt has just discovered his father has a brain tumour. And Thomas is still searching for reasons why his father died before he was born.

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.

Copy that: Dolphins and Sharks @Finborough

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At the end of the piece one of the characters asks the rest of them “So we’re just going to sit back and accept this?” Before turning to the audience and asking the same question. This is a key question in Dolphins and Sharks, a firey and sassy take on the world of work, dead end jobs, race and power. Written by James Anthony Tyler it’s having its European Premiere at the Finborough Theatre . The story is set in rapidly gentrifying Harlem, where non-white people can’t get a break. But the argument about just going to sit back and accept this might ring true to many of the residents of Kensington and Chelsea, where the Finborough is based. Afterall this is the borough that has continued to convulse over the horror from the Grenfell Tower disaster in June. A disaster that feels like the culmination of negligence, a gulf between rich and poor and general disinterest.

Boys town: Eyes Closed, Ears Covered @BunkerTheatreUK

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In the year since opening,  The Bunker  at Southwark has established itself for new and experimental pieces. Alex Gwyther’s Eyes Closed, Ears Covered is no exception. It’s a dark and confusing world where laughs and kicking about is a cover for something more sinister. It opens with an incident on the beach in Brighton in the late eighties. A boy’s been attacked and the police arrest two boys and question them about the events of the day. The two boys questioned, Seb and Aaron, had planned the day for weeks. They’ve planned and saved enough money and are going to bunk off school. But something has gone horribly wrong. There’s Aaron (Danny-Boy Hatchard), the cocky yet short-fused one. He’s got the plan to make it happen. And it was Seb’s (Joe Iris-Roberts) idea of the wide-eyed to visit his mum in Brighton. They seem like ten year olds as they bounce off each other and run about the stage recounting their mate ship. But as they tell their stories separately neither seem to provide a c

The wipers times: Windows @Finborough

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Windows is yet another rediscovery of a play that resonates with the issues of today. It’s set in the period after the First World War, but the issues it tackles seem familiar. Class, rehabilitation and liberal minded values are put to the test. Politicians are despised for their incompetence and the changing economy makes it hard to find help at the right price. Written by John Galsworthy, better known for The Forsyte Sage, it’s currently playing at the Finborough Theatre . And it’s having the first professional UK production in 85 years. We’re introduced to the March family, who are living in Highgate. Geoffrey March (David Shelley) is a successful writer of novels. His son Johnny (Duncan Moore) is still suffering the effects of three years in the trenches. But they are in desperate need of a woman to help clear the table. Surely in Highgate they could not be expected to do that for themselves?

Love and marriage: Mrs Orwell @ORLTheatre

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London in 1949 was a grim time with ration books and strange fish from South Africa. But it's amazing the lengths people will go to keep up morale. Or secure a future income. The business of marriage is explored in Mrs Orwell, currently playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre . It opens shortly after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell is dying of tuberculosis in hospital. But in his rage against the dying light he believes he has at three more novels in him. So to keep up his morale he proposes to his friend Sonia Brownell, an assistant magazine editor. Brownell is clear that she is not in love with him, but she does care for him. And she realises she could be his only hope to keep him going. Her heart is with a French Philospher and her body is often with Lucien Freud. Well, such is the glamorous life living with artists.

Grudge match: The Wasp @JSTheatre

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Just how long can you hold a grudge? Well it probably depends on what exactly went down at school. Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's The Wasp is back in the West End. It last appeared in 2015 at Hampstead Theatre and then transfered to Trafalgar Studios. Two years on, it's at the  Jermyn Street Theatre  and just as chilling and just as spooky. Although perhaps having seen it all before, you see more of the mechanics behind the story that evolves over cups of tea.  The story is about Carla and Heather. They were once schoolmates but drifted apart due to their different backgrounds. And one or two horrible incidents. Heather has become a successful businesswoman. She drinks lattes and has nice clothes. Carla is probably just about managing - pregnant and in a track suit - and prefers builders tea. The scene is set for what you think will be a class struggle and then Heather asks Carla if she would help her kill her husband.

Jam: Just To Get Married @Finborough

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What's exciting about watching Cicely Hamilton's Just To Get Married is how it captures the spirit of a changing world. The piece is having its first London production in over 100 years at the Finborough Theatre . It's lost none of its bite with its central argument that women are forced into marriage for their own survival. It's the only way they are judged as a success and they don't get the same opportunities as men. It also captures life in Edwardian England where there was a fine line between living comfortably and just about managing. Here there is no safety net. No pensions. And if you're a woman, no right to vote either. Today, while some of the attitudes and priorities may have changed, some of the values may still seem familiar...

Eat it up: Mumburger @ORLTheatre

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If barbecues and eating bring people together, Mumburger takes it to a new level in dealing with death and loss. Currently playing at the  Old Red Lion Theatre   Sarah Kosar's take on death, family and meat is funny and thought-provoking. And a little off-putting if you're squeamish. Mum's dead. She got hit by a truck on the M25. The two people she left behind - a father and daughter are grieving. There are the usual funeral plans and picking up relatives from the airport. But there is also the arrival of a brown package of meat patties to deal with. Did their mum arrange for them to be delivered on her death, knowing full well that unlike her they were only part-time vegetarians? Or are they symbolic of something more?