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Kafka-ish: Kafka @Finborough

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In offering proof that Kafka is everything to everyone - writer-performer Jack Klaff plays various roles, including the man himself in what is a part tour, part immersion and part legend of Franz Kafka. He is a writer who achieved fame after his life was cut short due to succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of forty. He is probably better known for his reputation and the Kafkaesque style attributed to his writing than his life. But after this piece, you’re left curious to learn more about the man and his works. And that has to be the best theatrical tribute you could give a writer, even for a writer who stipulated that his works be destroyed upon his death. It’s currently playing at the Finborough Theatre . Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883. In 1901, he was admitted to a university and began studying law. While studying, he met Max Brod, who would become his best friend and eventual literary executor. Brod would posthumously publish many of his works and writings. Kafka’s life co

Same but indifferent: Laughing Boy @JStheatre

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Stephen Unwin's Laughing Boy, adapted for the stage from Sara Ryan's Justice for Laughing Boy, is a powerful and moving story about a mother and a family that keeps asking questions despite the victimisation and harassment from the institution - the NHS - that was supposed to protect her son. It's a moving, celebratory account of a life cut short due to indifference held together by a remarkable performance by Janie Dee as Sara. It's currently playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre .  Sara's son, Connor, is a little different to others. He is fascinated by buses and doesn't like things like loud noises. But as he becomes an adult, his seizures and unexpected outbursts mean the family turn to their local NHS for support. Little did they realise they would receive such little care from a service that was institutionally incompetent and covered up thousands of unexplained deaths of people with disabilities, including Connor's. The search for answers about why he

Bear with me: Sun Bear @ParkTheatre

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If The Light House is an uplifting tale of survival, Sarah Richardson’s Sun Bear gives a contrasting take on this. Sarah plays Katy. We’re introduced to Katy as she runs through a list of pet office peeves with her endlessly perky coworkers, particularly about coworkers stealing her pens. It’s a hilarious opening monologue that would have you wishing you had her as a coworker to help relieve you from the boredom of petty office politics.  But something is not quite right in the perfect petty office, where people work together well. And that is her. And despite her protesting that she is fine, the pet peeves and the outbursts are becoming more frequent. As the piece progresses, maybe the problem lies in a past relationship, where Katy had to be home by a particular hour, not stay out late with office colleagues and not be drunk enough not to answer his calls. Perhaps the perky office colleagues are trying to help, and perhaps Katy is trying to reach out for help. It has simple staging

Man Overboard: The Light House @ParkTheatre

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Lightness and dark are in the balance in The Light House, writer and performer Alys Williams's story about the complexity of love. It is a love story about the highs and the lows of falling in love with someone who doesn't always want to be alive. But with some deft storytelling and some inspired audience participation, the piece is an uplifting and funny tale about the joys and otherwise of being in love. After a tour of the UK, it is having its London premiere at Park Theatre as part of their Make Mine a Double season of short plays. From the outset, Williams sets the piece's tone by calling for audience involvement to help shout "Man overboard" or blow whistles. She is a reassuring navigator, so while every show differs depending on who agrees to participate, you get the sense that you're in safe hands with her. And that becomes the story here as well. After falling in love with a fellow acting student, how does she find a way to keep the lights on, deal w

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

The male gaze: Turning the screw

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It's been a while since trips to the theatre. I've been busy. But it's nice to see that it's the creative process that is at the heart of Kevin Kelly's Turning the Screw. And what gives rise to it. It's a dramatisation of the creative process leading up to composer Benjamin Britten's premiere of his opera, The Turning of the Screw. With deadlines approaching, Britten seems stuck over melodies and unsure about completing the piece for its summer premiere. But the selection of twelve-year-old choirboy David Hemmings in the leading role of Miles within the opera is the spark that motivates him to complete the piece. And his presence may stir other feelings, too. It's currently playing at the Kings Head Theatre .  Britten's fascination with young boys has been the subject of a detailed book, Britten's Children. The book suggests that Britten saw himself as a young boy of 13. It's almost as if he saw himself as Peter Pan, albeit if Peter Pan was a

Grief and fluff: Tiger @OmnibusTheatre

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Death is something we all will face. After all, nobody gets out of here alive. But how do you get past it when grief is all you can feel? And this is the premise of Tiger, currently playing at Omnibus Theatre . It's a fascinating exploration of the stages of grief. And with a terrific cast to take you on this journey, it's an endearing and sweet story that has you engaged from the start, wondering what will happen next.  We are introduced to Alice (Poppy Allen-Quarmby) as she gives a stand-up routine. It's not particularly funny and starts to veer into the topic of dying. Something isn't right. She used to be good at this but can't move forward. Soon, she is back in her London apartment with her partner Oli (Luke Nunn), discussing that they need to get a lodger to make ends meet.  Oli is a doctor working night shifts at the local NHS hospital. Alice is not ready to face a return to stand up or anything. So when the first potential lodger arrives (Meg Lewis), looking

My night with Ben (and Kam and Russ and AJ and Simon): Jock night @7DialsPlayhouse

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Some of the PR to Jock Night says London is about to get a taste of Manchester with this piece. You could interpret that many ways, but it does feel as if you become immersed in a particular Mancunian world of sex, drugs and Coronation Street. Written and directed by Adam Zane, it's a sharp-tongued, drug-fuelled odyssey into an unconventional world with more than a few sharp observations about life in the gay ghetto. It's currently playing at the 7 Dials Playhouse .  The play is set in Ben's bedroom and revolves around a famous party night in Manchester where the dress code requires jocks or sportswear. After the party finishes, then come the drugs. Then the sex and then the chillout, and then they do it all over again. But Ben (David Paisley) is also looking for love - albeit in all the wrong places.  His friends are Kam (Sam Goodchild), a quick-witted man from Sussex who found a home in Manchester. Then there's Russell (Matthew Gent), a gym bunny and aspiring Instagra

Grand designs: The Garden of Words @ParkTheatre

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The Garden of Words explores what it is like when you're alone but surrounded by thousands of people. Projections, music and an engaging cast tell a unique story about an unlikely bond between a young boy and an older woman. The bond leads to a thoughtful and emotional journey about discovering yourself and being okay with that. After all, as the play reminds us throughout, people are indeed weird. Although being surrounded by peculiar people is probably good, it might make you feel a bit more normal. But that's not quite how the story pans out here. It's currently playing at the Park Theatre .  The piece introduces us to Takao (Hiroki Berrecloth) and Yukari (Aki Nakagawa). They first meet one day, escaping from the rain in a Japanese Garden. He's skipping school, seeking solace among the birds and the trees, and she is missing work. It's a chance encounter that, over the seasons, becomes a friendship bonding over poetry, shoemaking and exciting choices in cooking a

Dark Neighbourhoods: Union @Arcolatheatre

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A journey through the dystopia known as modern-day London - or at least the stops of gentrification along the Grand Union canal - is at the heart of Union—a provocative look at change, urban renewal and sanitisation. Written by Max Wilkinson, it's currently playing at the Arcola Theatre .  The premise is that successful property developer Saskia (Dominique Tipper) is about to sign the deal of her career. She is at the peak of her career and the height of her physical appearance. She asks the audience to check out her stomach as you could "eat an egg off that". But tonight, something isn't quite right. She has decided to go for a run along the Union Canal. She is ignoring calls from her boss and her partner. Having flashbacks and meeting characters along the canal forces her to confront some hard truths.  It's a fast-paced show with a breathless performance by Tipper in the lead role. She conveys the madness, the enthusiasm and the contradictions of living and work

Outrageous Sustenance: The Return of Benjamin Lay @Finborough

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The Finborough Theatre has its windows open to the world outside in The Return of Benjamin Lay. The evening sunlight fills the theatre space, and a giant tree outside the building gives you peace and tranquillity. It's as if you almost forget you are in a theatre just off the A3320 - a road known for pollution, noise and traffic congestion. Yet, recreating a Quaker meeting room for the piece also provokes the audience to reflect on how the life and times of a slavery abolitionist from the 1700s has something to say about our current times of modern slavery, prejudice and ignorance. It's currently having its world premiere at the Finborough Theatre.  Benjamin Lay was a revolutionary slavery abolitionist who lived in the 1700s. Having witnessed first-hand the atrocities of slavery in Barbados, he campaigned against it vigorously, including kidnapping a child of enslavers so they could see how it felt. For a man ahead of his time, the Quaker community disowned him. This monologue

Death becomes her: A Brief List Of Everyone Who Died @finborough

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For a natural process, death is not a topic that comes up naturally for people. We ask how people are doing but expect the response to be “I’m great”, not “I’m not dead yet”. And so for the main character in A Brief List of Everyone Who Died, Graciela has a death issue. Starting with when she was five and found out only after the matter that her parents had her beloved dog euthanised. So Graciela decides that nobody she loves will die from then on. And so this piece becomes a fruitless attempt at how she spends her life trying to avoid death while it is all around her. It’s currently having its world premiere  at the Finborough Theatre . As the play title suggests, it is a brief list of life moments where death and life intervene for the main character, from the passing of relatives, cancer, suicides, accidents and the loss of parents. Playwright Jacob Marx Rice plots the critical moments of the lives of these characters through their passing or the passing of those around them. Howeve

Scientific pursuits: Family Tree @BrxHouseTheatre

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Family Tree, by Mojisola Adebayo, uses the power of words to weave a story about race, inequality, health and the state of the world from the perspective of black women. It’s provocative, disturbing and methodical in depicting inequality throughout time. But it’s also a celebration of life and thriving in the face of relentless adversity. It’s currently playing at Brixton House . The guide to the story is Henrietta Lacks. Lacks was a black woman who died from cervical cancer in 1951. The hospital that treated her was the only hospital that would accept black patients in the area; it took a biopsy and collected her cells without her knowledge or consent. Scientists found that hers could be kept alive, unlike other cells that only survived for a few days. Today her cells are the oldest and most commonly used human cell line used to test the first polio vaccine, cancer treatments and covid-19 vaccines. The guide, Lacks (Aminita Francis), introduces us to a world where segregation and ineq

German rivalry: Farm Hall @JSTheatre

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What is it about German scientists that fascinate us? Whether it be Dr Strangelove or The Right Stuff, the German scientist from the time of war features as an omnipresent genius. But in Farm Hall, the debut play from Katherine Moar, it's the reflective scientist, not the mad crazy one, that is the focus. And in its brisk 90 minutes, you feel it captures the world's time and place. There was madness everywhere but not at Farm Hall. It's currently playing at Jermyn Street Theatre .  Farm Hall is based on the detainment by allied forces of several German physicists towards the end of the Second World War. Victory in Europe was complete, but the war in the Pacific continued. The capture aimed to learn how developed the German nuclear programme was through eavesdropping on their conversations. These men were the senior players in the German nuclear programme. Removed from the day-to-day world and confined to a decaying mansion, they play chess and card games and repair an old p

Life lessons even for vegetarians: The Winners Curse @parktheatre

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A play about the process of peace negotiations and negotiation theory might sound like a dreary way to spend the evening unless you’re already a student studying this stuff. But Daniel Taub’s play, The Winner’s Curse, has enough bad jokes and entertaining performances to give you some sense of the goings on, haggling and bargaining on the international stage. Whether it’s a play or an attempt at edutainment is another matter. It’s currently playing at Park Theatre . The title comes from the scenario where the winner ends up paying more than what the item they have won is worth. And in negotiations winning isn’t the most optimal outcome. And so, during the evening, we are given a demonstration of this against a fictional Eastern European peace negotiation process.  Clive Anderson, the former negotiator for a fictional country, is accepting an award and looking back on his career. Then we go back to his early days in understanding the process. Part dramatised with his younger self played

Diplomatic banter: The Ballerina @khaoseurope

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One person's waterboarding is another person's banter in The Ballerina. It has a short but somewhat delayed run as part of the Vault Festival under the railway arches at Waterloo. It was due to appear in 2020, but the pandemic got in the way. Since then the world post George Floyd, post dumping of a slave trader statue in Bristol Harbour seems to have diminished the novelty of the piece. But you never quite know if it's all a bit of a mind game or some friendly banter. The Vaults is a dystopian theatre setting at the best of times. Damp, cold and with the constant rumbling of trains overhead. When you throw in a piece that includes mind games and the odd bit of torture, it certainly is a confronting piece of theatre. Although perhaps not for the intended reasons. While there are various trigger warnings about the content, perhaps the audience could have also done with a bit of reassurance that no actors were harmed in making the piece too.  Told over a series of short scen

Hostile environments: On The Ropes @ParkTheatre

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On the Ropes, currently playing at Park Theatre , tells the real-life story of Vernon Vanriel. The show tells his story over twelve rounds, using the boxing ring as a metaphor. It's a compelling and emotional story of a life interrupted by the Windrush scandal using narration, songs and drama. Perhaps a few trims and a cast in fit and fighting form (without colds, flu or covid) could be a knockout. Vernon Vanriel's story is about a man who, against all odds, never gives up. Despite the obstacles his way, including ones from his demons. From a trainee electrician to the number two lightweight boxing champion in the UK, he had to deal with crooked promoters and a rigged boxing competition. He never got the opportunity to claim the number one title, and soon, drugs and mental health meant he would lose everything. But he would next find himself up against an even more formidable opponent, the institutionally racist policies of the British government. These policies led to him beco

Santa’s coming for us: The Grotto @draytonarmsSW5

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The Grotto is an alternative Christmas show for those who feel there isn’t enough blood, gore, and science fiction in traditional Christmas outings. Or you can’t stomach the usual good cheer this time of year. It plays at the Drayton Arms Theatre to satiate those who want to wish less good tidings to people at this time of year. It opens at a Santas Grotto in some shopping centre.  Layla and Pete are in some Christmas purgatory—dressed as an elf and Santa, Welcoming in children and taking a photo of them on Santa’s lap. They are on a repeat loop all day to the tune of I wish it could be Christmas every day. The music speeds up as the day continues in a frenzy of desperate Christmas cheer. It’s as if the music starts sounding like, “I wish shit could be Christmas”. After finishing up for the day in this Christmassy purgatory, Leyla and Pete are visited by a ghostly presence as they have lost their Christmas spirit. Christmas is an endurance event for them of annoying family members and

Fille matérielle: The Massive Tragedy Of Madame Bovary! @JSTheatre

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After seeing The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary, which is currently playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre, I found myself walking past the shops of Piccadilly wondering what Madame Bovary would make all of this apparent luxury. She was a woman ahead of her time, running up debts to live a life of luxury while having both a sensible husband and a lover. She would fit in in a nation where household debts have risen by a third . Even if she was living in a small provincial town.  So the premise of this piece by John Nicholson is whether it could be a comedy. Particularly given the time of the year when Christmas is approaching, and everyone is just after a feel-good night out at the theatre. The answer is, perhaps. The comedy is mostly sight gags and props, while the story of indebtedness and boredom in the provinces no doubt will enthral London audiences by reaffirming their own life choices.  But while we get a sense of the basic plot behind Madame Bovary,  we don’t understand the moti